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A boy dies, a PR stunt fails - what happens when a government cares more about itself than the public

Opinion

Arrogance and a lack of empathy on the part of our politicians led to the demise of one government this week. A boy’s tragic death shows another government is just as out of touch, writes Madonna King.

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If you wanted to appraise the Palaszczuk Government’s ability to administer a modern, innovative and fair health system, events this week would demand a spectacular overhaul.

The death of Hiyaan Kapil, a five-year-old who should be playing with friends as you read this, is unforgivable. So is the Government’s response.

Doctors make mistakes. Nurses make mistakes. Hospitals make mistakes. But this points to a systemic flaw. The Government viewing it as a “story to manage’’ and not the devastating loss of a child’s life is cruel and heartbreaking.

Back to that in a moment, but the second monumental health policy failure occurring this week related to the roll-out of free vaccines.

With an eye to positive PR, this was to be a good story; how the Government was coming to the rescue by spending (your money) encouraging flu vaccines.

But alas, it didn’t work out that way – and what it showed is a clarity in how the Palaszczuk Government doesn’t understand how to govern; its modus operandi is crisis mode.

That works in a flood, and at the height of Covid-19. But it is not 95 percent of the government’s work.

The government even tried to make this a crisis. The free vaccine needed to be announced urgently, we were told. No time could be wasted. People were getting sick.

And it went into crisis mode, ignoring the need to alert suburban doctors and pharmacies about the urgent big public health announcement – which required their support to deliver.

It defied logic, and it should demand a scalp.

What is the problem here? Is it that we need to pay more for health? Or that the government is governing in the way it did 10 years ago?

Or is it that advisers are too scared to tell ministers what they don’t want to hear.

“But Minister, don’t we need to do this in an orderly way that alerts GPs and pharmacies and educates the public?’’ Would that have made a difference and allowed medicos to access supplies and develop a plan?

Or is the government’s arrogance at a point where it believes doctors can find out, on the morning news, that their job was to somehow boost unavailable supplies and not charge for a vaccine? After all, this was a gift from government!

It ended up an own goal. GPs are furious. Pharmacists are trying to explain to frustrated customers that they cannot just walk in and access a vaccine. And waiting lists, in some cases, have blown out from a few hours, to a few months.

If the government was hoping for good PR, it should be sorely disappointed. And so should all of us.

The case of Hiyaan Kapil is heartbreaking and the government should leave no stone unturned to find out why treatment was repeatedly demanded, and not provided. And that’s the first sentence the government should have uttered.

That’s the least we should expect when a young child dies within hours of being discharged from a hospital emergency department.

Is the hospital understaffed? Were relevant diagnostic staff available? How was Hiyaan triaged? How was that communicated with his family?

According to reports from his family, he wasn’t able to walk properly. He wasn’t able to talk properly. And he was sent home – where he died.

Forget the politics and policy for a moment. And a review might show that everyone did everything possible – and this was just a tragedy.

But shouldn’t a caring government show that in the words it used – rather than quickly siphoning off for review?

Should our public servants do better than extend their sympathies – and then praise clinicians’ dedication to all patients?

So many lessons leap out from last Saturday; but empathy and a determination to work to help voters underpins most of them.

Perhaps it’s just because I can’t get the smiling face of little Hiyaan out of mind. Perhaps it’s because my heart is broken for his family.

But Hiyaan Kapil should be the face that inspires change. Not just for his grief-stricken parents, but for all of us.

Instead of looking for the good story, perhaps the government could create one.

 

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