Medical Errors

16 October 2019

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:27): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Cash. Recently I had major surgery but had to be readmitted to hospital via the emergency department a few hours after I was discharged. The readmission was due to significant bleeding, which the ED doctors stated was due to me being given the wrong combination of postop drugs. Medical errors are a major cause of death and mental ill health in Australia, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting that hospital-acquired complications in 2017-18 alone occurred in 185,000 people. Can the minister explain what actions the Department of Health is taking to reduce the tide of hospital-acquired complications in Australia, particularly given that it has been around that 180,000 to 190,000 figure for a number of years?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:27): I thank Senator Griff for the question and for providing me with some notice, but can I also acknowledge the personal experience that he has recently had. On behalf of all senators, I warmly welcome you back to the Australian Senate.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!

Senator CASH: Australia does have, as we know, one of the best health systems in the world. It is supported by dedicated clinicians who work hard to ensure that their patients receive safe and high-quality care. As you have outlined, though, in your personal experience, things can go wrong, and ongoing work is needed to reduce the impact of adverse events on Australian patients and their families. The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care provides support and guidance to clinicians in the management and improvement of hospital-acquired complications. A national list of hospital-acquired complications has been developed by clinicians to support hospitals in monitoring public safety. This list provides a subset of hospital-acquired complications that were prioritised by clinicians based on preventability, patient impact severity, health service impact and clinical priority.

In the National Health Reform Agreement, jurisdictions—because obviously a lot of this is primarily the jurisdiction of the states and territories—have agreed to improve patient outcomes for hospital-acquired complications. To incentivise patient safety and quality through improved patient outcomes, hospital funding is reduced for any episode of admitted acute care where a hospital-acquired complication occurs. This reduced funding is then used by the state or territory governments to deliver safety and quality improvement programs to support clinicians deliver better patient outcomes.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, your first supplementary?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:29): Most errors occur when medical personnel are hungry, angry, late or tired, which is known as the HALT syndrome. The pilot who flew me here from Adelaide has regulated hours. Train and long-distance truck drivers have regulated hours. Why is it that doctors and nurses, in both the public and the private system, do not have maximum safe regulated working hours?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:30): Again, safety and quality in hospitals is primarily the responsibility of states and territories, but certainly the Australian government supports the states and territories in improving hospital quality and safety by funding jointly the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality Care in Health Care. In relation to the incentivisation that I previously referred to, perhaps I should add that the strengthened data collection that it has acquired and the reporting measures to support clinicians in learning and decision-making are key elements of these measures. So there is a lot of work being done and there are mechanisms in place. And the Australian government works with the states and territories to, again, ensure that patients are receiving safe and high-quality care, because ultimately our clinicians are dedicated and they— (Time expired)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, your second supplementary question?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:31): Accountants have international accounting standards. Manufacturers have ISO standards. Will the government commit to developing clinical healthcare standards that govern diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation and that best utilise practice evidence?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:31): Again, in answering that question I would make the point—because I think it is a point we need to reiterate—that Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and it is supported by dedicated clinicians who work hard to ensure that their patients receive safe and high-quality care. In relation to your further question, I'll have to refer that to the minister.

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