Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Victorian hospital disgrace

Dying mother sent home twice without seeing doctor

A WOMAN who died 10 minutes after arriving home from hospital for the second time in a day was not even seen by a doctor, a coronial inquest has found. June Owen, 63, died after visiting Stawell Hospital. There was no doctor there, and the one on call decided not to come in to see her.

Janice Campbell said it was shocking a doctor had not seen her mother, who was in pain and suffering breathing difficulties.

Coronial findings made by magistrate Richard Pithouse last week - 18 months after the inquest - had left her family "confused". "It still leaves many questions unanswered, and it contains no recommendations on changes that need to be made to prevent this happening again," Ms Campbell said. [That is about what you would expect from Pithouse the shithouse]

On the day of her death, Mrs Owen contacted Rural Ambulance Victoria four times, and was twice taken to Stawell Hospital. She first visited the hospital at 5pm on January 21, 2008 with abdominal pain, and a nurse gave her two Panadeine Forte tablets and sent her home.

At 10.15pm, she again arrived by ambulance and a nurse phoned on-call doctor Briandha Jeremiah, who decided not to attend to examine her. Dr Jeremiah told the nurse to give her a pethidine injection, to relieve her pain, but the inquest heard conflicting reports on how long Mrs Owen should be monitored afterwards.

Mrs Owen was released from hospital 40 minutes after her injection. "A taxi took her home. She travelled home alone. It appears that five minutes later, Mrs Owen entered her bedroom," the report said. Her partner noticed she was breathing heavily, and five minutes later he returned to find her dead.

An autopsy found Mrs Owen, who suffered heart and lung disease, had died from an enlarged heart.

Stawell Regional Health acting chief executive Claire Letts said after Mrs Owen's death, triage, assessment and pain management policies at the hospital had been reviewed, and minor changes had been made.


Harsh Federal Budget cracks down on welfare

WORK-for-the-dole rules will be twice as tough for almost 230,000 long-term unemployed people as part of the Gillard Government's Budget crackdown on welfare. And disability pensioners will face tougher work rules and limits on time spent overseas to prevent rorting of the payments of up to $670 a fortnight.

But Labor faces major hurdles in selling its "tough love" Budget to average families who will be offered little to help offset the soaring cost of living.

The Government has been pushed further into the red by the impact of the global financial crisis, the summer of natural disasters and a collapse in company tax revenue.

Labor has promised a tough approach to Australia's ballooning welfare bills to force more people into work. People who have been on the dole for more than two years will be forced to double their minimum work experience and training requirements to two days a week for 11 months.

At the moment, these work requirements are limited to six months. The new rules bring work-for-the-dole in line with the number of weeks worked by average Australians who take four weeks holidays a year.

Work-for-the-dole activities can include part-time work, volunteer jobs that lead to work and on-the-job training.

Disability pensioners could face rules that allow them to work for up to 30 hours a week and still get welfare payments in a bid to slash the 860,000 people receiving the assistance.

The Government will also tighten eligibility rules for the dole, youth allowance and parenting payments as it wields a big stick against welfare recipients.


Now it's the digital TV box rort

A NEW public waste scandal is looming after it was revealed that up to $400 a time has been allocated to install digital TV set-top boxes that can be purchased for as little as $30 each.

The Federal Government has pledged to give every pensioner a new set-top box in today's Budget. The package would include installation, any necessary wiring work, a lesson in using it and a year's access to a technical support helpline. But in an echo of the failed pink batts scheme, the Opposition claims the costs of the $308 million scheme are massively overblown and it would be "cheaper to buy a new TV set".

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's office said yesterday the package cost about $350 per person, but his spokesman declined to provide a breakdown of labour, equipment and administrative costs, saying it was "commercial in confidence".

However, Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said the scheme was as wasteful as the Building the Education Revolution program and the bungled home insulation scheme. "This is the new school hall, pink batt program. It seems as though the Government comes up with a wasteful program every Budget," Mr Hockey said.

"How many hours does it take to install a set-top box. Even if you are charging $25 an hour for one labourer I am pretty confident you're not going to be spending a day installing each set-top box."

Under the BER school classroom and hall building projects, tens of millions of dollars were spent on management and administration fees, while four deaths, house fires and shonky workmanship were linked to the bungled batts scheme.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the $308 million Budget sweetener was to prevent pensioners being left in the dark and in the worst case, left without emergency services updates at times of crisis.

NSW pensioners will begin receiving boxes before the analog signal is switched off in Griffith, Hay, Wagga Wagga, Wollongong, the South Coast and the Central West next year. The Hunter and New England regions are due to switch over to digital late next year while Sydney will get only a digital signal in 2013.

Mr Conroy's office said installers of set top boxes had to be endorsed under a government scheme or have completed six areas of competence in Digital Reception Technology.

The Government is using an online test to pass antenna installers for entry to a government-endorsed program. The Government is building a bank of installers, based on them having at least 12 months experience and having passed an online exam lasting about three hours on installation.


Funny money and Australia

We humans are a slow-learning species. In the 1980s we blew up what was then the world's second-biggest economy, Japan, with loose money. In the 2000s, we blew up the biggest economy, the US, with loose money.

Not content with that, in 2008 we went on to blow up the economy of most of the world. How? With loose money. Any intelligent species would learn from this experience. But look around.

The economies that account for 96 per cent of the world economy are today running loose money policies. Most are happily handing out free money. Some are supplying money at rates so low that it's actually cheaper than free.

It's done for good cause. When money is cheap, people are more inclined to invest or spend. So it aids economic recovery. The former chief of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was named as Time magazine's person of the year in 1999 for his ready resort to loose money.

But if there is too much for too long, it ends badly. Exactly a decade later, Time named Greenspan as No. 3 on its list of "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis". And I think they let him off lightly.

The evidence of the past three decades should be enough, but you can go back further. In fact, every major financial crisis in the four centuries of capitalism has had its origins in loose money.

How does it work? It's simple commonsense. The basis for value is scarcity. If scarcity is destroyed, so is value. And when money loses its value, it is abused.

Human societies have always abused commodities when they're provided too cheaply or free - free fresh water, for example - and money is no different. The loose money creates a "bubble" in asset prices, which ultimately collapses, dragging the economy into a recession, or worse.

The lyrics change from one episode to the next, but the song remains the same.

This time, it's happening in so many countries that it's much easier to list the countries where it's not happening. Brazil and Australia are the only economies of any reasonable size where money is not loose.

The standout champion of loose money in the world today is the US. For 2½ years now, the US Federal Reserve has been supplying money to America's banks at an official interest rate of 0-0.25 per cent a year.

Inflation in America is running at 2 to 3 per cent. So, in real terms, the American central bank is lending at an interest rate of minus 2-3 per cent. It is, in effect, subsidising the banks to borrow money.

The US is debasing its currency so effectively that the US dollar has fallen by 14 per cent in the past year, as measured by the Fed's major currencies index. But China doesn't want to lose export competitiveness to the US, so it has maintained its peg to the dollar. This means that China's renminbi is also depreciating in real terms against its other trading partners. So the US and Chinese currencies are debasing in tandem.

In the meantime, the central banks of the EU and Japan are handing out money cheaper than free. In sum, almost the entire world has gone monetarily mad. And the cheap money is forming a bubble in the price of commodities.

Central bankers in many countries are quietly worried about this. Each thinks that his bank alone cannot make any difference. So they leave their interest rates low. Yet their collective inaction guarantees that they are all facing a problem of growing inflation and a dangerous bubble in commodity prices. This is the same problem, the "prisoner's dilemma", that we see in the case of carbon emissions.

What can Australia do? The Reserve Bank is one of the very few central banks which is not running loose money, so it's not part of the problem. But the Australian government has a key part to play.

It's prudent for Australia to assume that the floodtide of global liquidity will eventually generate a crisis. Time magazine has already named Greenspan's successor, Ben Bernanke, as its person of the year, in 2009. We cannot pick the date of the next crisis, and it is probably years away, but we can identify the trend. And prepare.

When the global financial crisis rocked the world, the key to Australia's relative immunity was that we went into the crisis with zero federal government debt. This was Peter Costello's gift to the nation.

It allowed the Rudd-Gillard-Swan government to launch two stimulus packages without any danger to Australia's rolled-gold credit rating. It's now time for the Gillard-Swan government to roll back the debt and restore Australia's fiscal health.

Swan has been busy pointing out that his plan to return the budget to surplus by 2012-13 would be the fastest consolidation in federal finances in modern history. But as the accompanying chart shows, this is just as well. Because the run-up in Australia's debt was among the fastest in the world.

Australian government debt has risen by 250 per cent since 2007, in the comparison prepared by Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart of the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research. This is the biggest percentage increase of any ''non-crisis country'' and third only to two of the front-line "crisis countries", Iceland and Ireland. They have had to resort to emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund to stay solvent.

Among the nations classed as crisis countries - Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Britain, the US, Greece and Portugal - the average debt run-up was 136 per cent.

Australia was superfast in resorting to debt. It worked and we avoided a painful recession. But the government must now conduct a superfast rundown in debt. This is a prerequisite to brace Australia for the crisis to come.


Learn from Canada about climate policy

In Australia it is increasingly common to hear lectures, invariably dressed up as speeches, from European politicians or the European Union itself about climate change and all that. However, Australia's economy has little in common with that of Britain or most of the other western European nations. Rather, our economy most resembles that of Canada - also a mineral-rich, primary producing nation - and to some extent the United States.

In view of this, the likes of Swan and Prime Minister Julia Gillard along with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott would be well advised to take a break from the budget preparations and focus, for a while, on last week's election in Canada - assuming that they have not already done so.

In a surprise result Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of the incumbent minority government led by the Conservative Party, has been returned to office with an absolute majority of seats. This was not on the agenda just a few months ago.

There was one key issue that distinguished the Conservatives from their rivals. Harper declared that he was opposed to what he labelled as "the socialists and the separatists" - all of whom supported a cap-and-trade scheme (similar to an emissions trading scheme). The Conservative Party's policy was clear - under Harper's prime ministership, Canada would not introduce climate-change policies before those supported by President Barack Obama's administration and passed by the United States Congress.

In other words, Harper stated the belief that Canada should not go ahead of the field on climate-change policies - when such key nations as the US, China, India and Japan had not signed on to a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.

Previous administrations in Canada had endorsed the Kyoto agreement but Canada had consistently failed to meet its carbon reduction targets. The Canadian Conservatives campaigned that a cap-and-trade system would lead to an increase in fuel and power prices. It worked.

There were other factors, of course. Despite its minority status, the Harper government had presided over a sound economy and had restrained the growth of spending in responding to the global financial crisis. Even so, the key division between the Conservative Party and the others turned on its opposition to cap and trade.

In budget week, there is something to be learnt by both Gillard and Abbott in the surprise Canadian election result. Labor wants a carbon tax and the opposition advocates direct but expensive measures to reduce carbon emissions. In Canada, the Conservatives are running a line that goes something like this: Canada is a responsible nation and will play its part in reducing carbon emissions but only when the likes of the US, China, India and Japan do likewise.

This line worked for Harper in Canada. There is no obvious reason why such an approach would not also have appeal in Australia.


No comments: