Dr Thomas Karplus blames media for hospital crisis
By Janet Fife-Yeomans, dtm
April 25, 2008 12:00am
THE crisis in confidence in the state's hospitals is nothing more than a media beat-up, a leading specialist told the Garling inquiry into the health system.
Dr Thomas Karplus, head of vascular medicine at Concord Hospital, blamed the bad publicity for demoralising staff and driving away talented nurses and doctors.
"Our public hospital system is one of the best in the world," said Dr Karplus, telling medical staff to stand up and be proud.
His testimony came in dramatic contrast to other evidence given to the inquiry, sitting at Concord Hospital, as one widow told how her husband lived for three years after doctors advised turning off his life support.
Sandra Gendron cried as she told how doctors at Concord encouraged her to switch off her husband's ventilator in 2003, telling her there was nothing else they could do for him.
She refused and Daniel Gendron subsequently went home and lived for another three years, dying aged 51.
Widow Jacqui Day, whose husband Andy, 45, died on the floor of Concord Hospital in the middle of the night after being admitted for pneumonia, told the inquiry that doctors lacked accountability.
And Dr Jean Lennane, national vice-president of Whistleblowers Australia, said a lot of staff were worried about speaking out even to the inquiry.
However Dr Karplus, chairman of the hospital's medical staff council and chairman of the medical staff executive council of Sydney South West Area Health Service, said the media was to blame.
"The current media portrayal of the public health system in crisis erodes public confidence in the hospital system, demoralises the workforce, antagonises the administrators, and does little to address the real issues affecting the system," he said.
"Negative reporting drives away the very people with talent we need to have to improve the system."
However even he acknowledged some problems - such as not enough money, too few doctors, nurses and administrators, too much paperwork and more and more patients.
Dr Karplus said doctors had to sacrifice patient care time to deal with increasing amounts of paperwork and meet key performance indicators which achieved little.
There was a shortage of doctors, blamed on decisions in the 1980s limiting training places and a shortage of nurses, again blamed on the media.
"There is little to entice older workforce members to rejoin the service, especially in view of the negative publicity," he said.
Public hospitals were being asked to do "more and more as ever-increasing numbers of people accessed the system" while GPs were stretched to provide services in the community, Dr Karplus said.
The inquiry continues next week at Lismore and Tweed Heads.