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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our right to know about public hospitals and public schools

Andrew Leigh of Australian National University was right a couple of weeks ago (see our comments) in his observations about the importance of transparency concerning performance of hospitals. He was also right yesterday in another op-ed in the Australian Financial Review in highlighting four core notions about public funding for school education, including that "taxpayers who fund (the) schools have a right to demand that they provide empirical data such as test scores, drop out rates, or parental satisfaction surveys"; and that funding provided should be sufficiently transparent to enable parents to know precisely how much government funding their school receives as a result of their child's enrolment. Our present system isn't up to scratch in either area.

Just on the issue of information about the health system, a report released last week by The Australian Centre for Health Research on Australian health care agreements includes a section on data about public hospitals that says the billions spent by federal and state governments on IT for performance of the health system "has largely been wasted". The report (pages 37-39) says data on comparative performance of public and private hospitals should be collected and published, to ensure government, analysts and the public can make informed judgments about these institutions and the people running them.
"In the short term it will lead to embarrassment for some hospitals, health bureaucracies and Ministers - this is happening now in a more dramatic and unhelpful way without data being available publicly. In the medium to long term, if it results in improved performance, the political embarrassment will diminish".
But in the meantime we have reports of fiddling with the data about emergency waiting times at some public hospitals in NSW. We need to do something about integrity within the system as well as committing to publication of accurate performance information.

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