Sitting in the Cancer treatment ward at Canberra Hospital you are in a little world all of its own. The first time I was there the Sister in charge was everywhere, didn’t stop moving from one patient to another, checking machines, having a quiet word with a nurse on treatment, a quick joke with a patient, getting supplies, moving equipment. By the time it got to about 3pm, and she still hadn’t taken a break since 9 in the morning I suggested she have lunch. “The comfort and well-being of my patients is more important than me missing lunch” she said. Eventually, everything quiet for a moment, she took 5 minutes to eat a sandwich and bolt down a cup of coffee, before returning to action, not ending her day (because my treatment was running very late) until after 6pm, she staying on at the end by herself to see me finished. She is a perfect example of the ethos of this extraordinary facility.
Another feature of it is that all the patients are completely equal. I have no idea who they are, what their backgrounds are, how they came to this place. We wear comfortable anonymous clothes, and we all sit on surgical chairs of exactly the same kind, and all of us get exactly the same level of care and treatment from this wonderful staff. The only variations are related to the extent and type of cancer – it is totally needs driven medicine.
It isn’t the kind of medicine favoured by the conservatives of America and Australia. In their vision each patient would come in wearing some badges of rank – “I was a company executive”, “I was a famous sportsman”, “I was a conservative politician”,”"I am a billionaire miner” “I come from an A-list family” and so on. Then the type and position of seat, the number of nurses in attendance, the extent of treatment, could all be allocated disproportionately to these people, while the rest of us could make do with the crumbs from the rich men’s operating table.
In America the mildest attempt by Obama to shift slightly from wealth-based medicine to needs-based medicine was quickly snuffed out by the Republicans. Here it seems plain that if the conservatives return to power at the next election we too will be heading rapidly down the track of cheque book medicine.
No, of course I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I would like to see some of these people being treated in the ward with me.
Brings a whole new perspective on life.
[No, that's not the ward in the photo, silly, but my grandfather in hospital in England almost exactly 100 years ago.]