Health Care System

Once upon a time, the sick and the weak were taken care of in monasteries. This usually involved faith healing by means of prayers, penance, supplication to suitable saints, and contact with sacred relics, says Dr. Knut Haeger in the Illustrated History of Surgery.

Priests and monks practiced medicine without any insight into human anatomy and physiology, says Dr. Haeger.

Monasteries stimulated the development of hospitals. The oldest hospitals were founded in Sri Lanka around 500 BC and India had effective hospitals by 260 BC.

Much has happened since then. Now we have modern hospitals in almost every town and city. People are living longer. Most of them feel good about themselves.

About 60 percent of the people in our region and provincially report that they are in excellent or very good health. About 80 percent feel that health care services are easily accessible. About 90 percent feel that the quality of services received is excellent or good. Only 5 percent reported failure to receive needed care. With results like this one would expect that everything is good to excellent in the health care system.

But we know it is not. In the real world things are different. I get up in the morning and open my newspaper. The headline says: Hospital strapped for beds. I look at the third page. It carries a story of a cancer patient who cannot get an MRI.

I look at the editorial page. The editor blasts the government for ignoring the health needs of the people. Then there is a letter to the editor from an angry daughter who feels that her mother should not have been discharged from the hospital as she lives alone. I look at the ticked off column. A man is angry because he had to wait in the emergency department for four hours before he could see a doctor.

As I drive to work, I wonder if there is a perfect health care system in the world? Having lived in four continents I should know the answer. No.

In the last century or the millennium has there been a system that has worked for a particular country? No.

Then whom are we trying to fool? Why the morale of the people who use and deliver the services is so low?

Because the government promises too much to the people and expects the health authorities and front line caregivers to deliver the goods- first class -within a confined budget. How can we be responsive to people’s changing needs when the cost is prohibitive?

It is time people know the truth. But the “political cowardice” and the “democratic election process” inhibit such honesty. In the process, the system is burning out people who have to deliver the goods – the health care professionals.

In an article titled “Assessing Processes and Outcomes of Medical Care”, Dr. David Naylor, Professor of Medicine, University of Ontario says: Here then is a challenge for us all. Canada’s public health care systems are in the throes of a difficult transition. When the health system is squeezed, the professionals in it are squeezed. And when the system is restructured, our lives are disrupted. Frustration mounts, and at the time when Canadians need clinical leadership, there is a risk that it will recede as alienated practitioners start worrying more about the diminishing quality of their lives, and less about the diminishing quality of the health-care system.

I believe it is time the health care professionals and the patients unite to save the system for the next millennium – for our children and grandchildren. This is too important a business to be left to the politicians!

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