Since becoming Shadow Health Minister in February 2022, the personal accounts I have heard from Canberrans about their experiences of the local health system have been frightening, heartbreaking and frankly unacceptable in a city like Canberra.
There are the headline stories that make the press and the individual tragedies many Canberrans are familiar with. However, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of negative experiences Canberrans have imparted to me.
Stories like the woman having a miscarriage, who was told the early pregnancy centre couldn’t help her, so she felt she had no option but to go to Queanbeyan hospital for the required procedure, where she was seen the next day.
Or of the man with a broken back who, after being transferred to a different ward, was not fed for three days because of a lack of communication.
I talk to stakeholders: doctors, nurses, allied health workers and paramedics. Working in a faltering system, these dedicated clinicians tell me the same thing over and over – that there is a gross failure of leadership across the health system.
When leadership is unable to articulate standards and a clear strategic direction, culture fails. And when culture fails, clinicians and ultimately patients suffer. The people of Canberra suffer.
Stakeholders tell me their experience of the health portfolio is that it is characterised by short-term fixes, without any strategic vision or funding. Meanwhile, a small army of communications staff generates a constant stream of media stories which make the government look active, while real funding and real health outcomes for Canberrans decline.
This is the approach of a Labor-Greens Government that, after 22 years, has become too entrenched in office, and is too mired in debt and hamstrung by its commitment to extend the tram to Woden, at a cost of billions.
This coming year the Canberra Liberals will be releasing our health policy. We have already committed to a Royal Commission into the ACT Health System. It will review the systems and governance at every level and ensure service and accountability is at the core of our health system.
But more than providing a list of potential solutions, the ACT health system needs strong leadership, and it needs a government that genuinely cares for Canberrans as opposed to caring about its image and looking active.
Strong effective leadership sets the tone for standards and accountability. Effective leaders establish a clear vision, aligning all stakeholders towards common goals such as improving patient care outcomes.
This is crucial in setting high standards for service delivery, ensuring that healthcare practices meet the necessary quality and safety benchmarks and rebuilding public trust.
Strong leadership is the cornerstone of a robust, responsive, and accountable health system. We don’t just need a better health care system – we need one that is competently led.
Leanne Castley is the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Health Minister