A brief item on ABC Radio's PM last Friday about the suppression of public health information by Australian governments referred to results of a survey of public health researchers undertaken by two academics from the School of Population Health from the University of Western Australia. Over 300 researchers had responded to a questionnaire about whether their research over the five years to mid 2006, had encountered a "suppression event" - where potentially embarrassing or controversial health information of legitimate public interest to be researched or published was prevented, obstructed, defunded or sanitized by an Australian government agency.
See the full report from the December 2007 edition of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (Blackwell Publishing) - A survey of suppression of public health information by Australian governments
One hundred and forty two suppression events were reported in responses. Most concerned attempts to suppress research about the delivery of health services, population health status, environmental exposure of health administration. The reason in most cases was to attempt to protect government, health industry and provider group interests.
The academics who conducted the survey concluded as follows, and this is enough to make us all sit up and pay attention:
"The suppression of health information as practised by Australian governments represents very poor government practice in its milder forms and official corruption in more extreme cases. It is certainly unbecoming of a nation that prides itself on being enlightened, democratic society where the government is held accountable for protecting and improving the lives of the people".Should we all be reassured by the head of the National Health and Medical Research Council who told PM on Friday that the matter will be discussed at a meeting in May?