Explanation needed for ACT's disappointing health service management

The time has come for the Barr Government to explain why, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on health services each and every year, ACT Health continues to lurch from crisis to crisis.

Given this administration has, in one form or another, been around since the turn of the century it is impossible for Chief Minister Barr and Health Minister, Meegan Fitzharris, to blame this unfortunate situation, which saw the Canberra Hospital come close to losing its accreditation earlier this year, on any previous government.

In addition to the accreditation crisis, which saw the management of the ACT's biggest hospital castigated by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards for falling below the mark in 33 out of 209 core criteria, there have been controversies over fudged statistics and data recording, unacceptably long waiting lists for elective surgery, delays in the Emergency Departments and ongoing allegations of bullying and harassment.

None of these things is acceptable. The fact they have not been corrected indicates an inability by those responsible for managing the system, from Barr and Fitzharris down, to master an enterprise of this scope and complexity.

The latest attempt to put the genie back in the bottle was the decision to split ACT Health into two parts in what seems to have been the hope the new entities would be more manageable than the behemoth they replaced.

That grand plan, which has never been explained in comprehensive detail and is due to take effect from October 1, is now in disarray following an even more chaotic week for ACT health workers than normal.

It all began well enough when, on Monday, it was announced Janet Anderson, the Northern Territory public servant who led that government's response to the youth detention royal commission, would head delivery of clinical health services in Canberra. Ms Anderson flew to the ACT for the photo opportunity.

On Wednesday we reported that due to the lack of progress on finalising the details of the imminent split ACT Health staff were headed for an extended period of uncertainty and stress.

Key decisions on finance, logistics, reporting structures and staff arrangements would not be finalised until just days before the changeover occurred with the result that staff were left in limbo.

That is far from new. Hard working and highly qualified nurses, doctors, specialists and health technicians are frequently in the dark thanks to a silo mentality and poor communications practices that date back many years.

These issues were highlighted when, on Thursday, we reported Dr Maurice Mulcahy's statement his contract as one of the leading urologists at both Canberra and Calvary hospitals was not extended after he criticised a culture of bullying at Canberra Hospital and called for improvements in training.

That was also the day the news broke Janet Anderson had resigned just three days after her appointment had been announced.

If this unfortunate series of recent events does not prove health care in the ACT is in crisis then what would?

The time for platitudes is long passed. What we need now is an honest account of the scope of the problems, well-considered responses - possibly calling on expertise not available within ACT Health, and a clearly defined and appropriately funded plan of action.

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