Another tale of a failed government initiative regarding health care

I won’t quibble with the need to distribute health care more evenly across America.  I will fight, though, against putting health care in the government’s hands.  Think of the DMV, think of airport security, think of the IRS, think of any interaction you’ve had with a government entity that has no competition, and tell me if that’s how you want your health care run.  And if you need a reminder, read this tragic story out of England:

Scores of premature babies may be dying unnecessarily across England because the NHS mismanaged a reform of neonatal units in 2003, parliament’s spending watchdog reveals today.

Health ministers provided £73m over three years to link up hospital neonatal units in 23 regional networks that could provide specialist services to save premature and low birth weight babies.

But the National Audit Office finds that the Department of Health did not issue instructions for the units to be adequately staffed. As a result the service was overstretched. Its specialist nursing workforce was nearly 10% below strength. There were not enough cots to respond to every emergency and there was a lack of specialist 24-hour transport to move babies and mothers to other hospitals.

Jacqui Smith, when health minister in 2003, said she agreed with recommendations from the British Association for Perinatal Medicine for minimum staffing ratios. But the government did not order NHS trusts to implement them.

The NAO says there was “confusion” over whether staffing ratios were mandatory, making it difficult for unit managers to convince NHS trusts they needed more staff.

Half the 180 units providing neonatal services did not meet the approved ratio for high dependency care of one nurse to two babies. And only 24% met the intensive care ratio of one nurse to one baby.

That is the kind of often well-intentioned inefficiency that characterizes government bureaucracies, and that is how people — especially the most helpless people — die.

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