Doctors at the front line of tough times
WE all know that times are tough.
The biggest impact of all is the rising unemployment rate. This is the most human face of a recession.
Unemployment affects the individual in that it causes anxiety, stress, low self-esteem and depression. It affects the families and marital relationships and children. It affects communities and society with increasing crime rates, drug and alcohol dependencies, increased displacement and homelessness.
Brendan Nelson has likened unemployment to a disease. It causes sickness and propagates itself across generations.
Those who are unemployed cannot afford private health insurance and will fall to the public hospital systems for high-level care.
They will seek concessions from general practice, or seek to be bulk-billed.
Doctors are at the front line of tough times. I am certain that many of you already are experiencing patients presenting with anxiety regarding their financial or employment situations.
Our patients who are self-funded retirees are already feeling the squeeze and worrying that they will not be able to afford private cover or gaps.
Many who work in contractual arrangements with mining or big business have no prospect of contracts being renewed or new ones secured. Their income will end at the end of current arrangements, or will be terminated sooner. The prospect of other work is shrinking. Many are just being made redundant, jobs terminated.
These are our patients, the family breadwinners, the young people who had such positive futures, those with mortgages, those with chronic illness, those with young families.
Often people turn to us as their confidants and safe havens to share their worries and feelings. Sleeplessness, lethargy, a sense of failure, somatic symptoms, as well as mental health issues, illness and disease will be increasingly on our doorsteps.
Doctors are non-judgemental, provide support and guidance, listen, examine, investigate and manage as is necessary. For an individual, their health is core to being able to cope with the tough times.
At these times more than ever Australians will need government to continue to underpin and support their health care.
This means appropriate indexation of the Medicare rebate, the Medicare Safety Net and the 30% Private Health Insurance rebate. Public hospitals will need to provide care for a greater demand. They will need more funding.
The increasing number of socioeconomically compromised will be reflected in increased presentations of illness and disease that go hand in hand with that status.
So tough times mean that doctors are needed even more, and should mean that government has a greater and more important role and responsibility in supporting health care. It is not a time to try to skimp and save in health, but to respond to increased need.