OVER the last few weeks Catholic hospitals have been the target of disgruntled doctors and misguided politicians.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) federal president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal joined with IVF specialists to criticise the Church’s stance on abortion, sterilisation and reproductive technologies.
Senators Lyn Allison and Kate Lundy bought in to the issue musing that it may be time for a parliamentary inquiry.
The upshot has been yet another round of “anti-Catholic” bashing and the projection of an erroneous perception that Catholic health is a harsh, insensitive service devoid of compassion and decency.
Fortunately, the facts reveal otherwise.
In a curious outburst, Dr Haikerwal, seemingly speaking outside official AMA policy, insisted that Catholic public hospitals should make available sterilisation services because they are publicly funded.
He said that all public hospitals should provide the full gamut of medical services.
This is naive in the extreme. You would be hard pressed to find any public hospital in Australia that provides the full range of medical, let alone surgical services.
Dr Haikerwal should know this. I don’t hear him accusing other public hospitals when they fail to provide essential services because local authorities determine that these are best located elsewhere.
And that is the crux of the matter.
State and territory authorities have entered into formal funding and service agreements with Catholic hospitals to deliver a range of mutually agreed services.
These agreements are transparent and regularly monitored. They preserve the ethical integrity of the Catholic hospital and provide local communities with essential health care that otherwise would need to be directly provided by the state.
It is a win/win situation. State authorities have always respected the fact that Catholic hospitals will not provide abortion and sterilisation services.
It is encouraging to note that Queensland Treasurer Anna Bligh publicly praised the work of Catholic hospitals amidst this recent furore. She clearly knows the economic and social benefits Catholic hospitals bring to her state.
Dr Haikerwal would do well to pause and consider where the real responsibility lies for the provision of services he so eagerly seeks.
State authorities respond to community pressures to mount various services. If they wish to arrange for abortion and sterilisation services to be available to local communities then surely it is on its head, not that of the Catholic hospital. Dr Haikerwal has missed his target.
He has been joined by colleagues bemoaning the fact that the Catholic private hospital system is growing.
This growth has occurred as other private hospitals find the going too tough in the cut-throat private market.
In some cases the hospitals have conducted IVF programs that require relocation once the hospitals come under Catholic ownership.
Again, critics have missed their target when complaining that IVF services need reconfiguration.
Private hospital care is organised on a market basis.
Big private health companies determine what services they will provide on commercial terms. Many don’t consider the provision of IVF for that reason alone.
Yet the AMA and associated specialists conveniently overlook these commercial decisions but seek to make populist noise when services are discontinued on an ethical basis.
Moreover, whenever a Catholic hospital considers the purchase of another hospital with associations to services that would not be ethically acceptable, those issues are stated upfront in the tendering process.
It is usually not earth shattering news to health professionals and managers.
It makes good media copy, but hardly becomes the determining issue in the sale.
The number of recent Catholic hospital acquisitions speaks for themselves.
More broadly it is sobering to note that the Catholic Church is the only non-government organisation that has a major presence in public hospital care in Australia.
Without the Church the value of hospital Medicare would be far less effective.
It conducts public teaching and research hospitals, including obstetrics and gynaecology.
In addition, the Church is the major private obstetric service in the country.
This is a real practical commitment to women’s health care, one that has borne the test of time and from which other organisations have shied.
It is inevitable that the Church will continue to be the brunt of ill-informed critics.
However, it is only to be hoped that others who have benefited from Catholic health will step up to keep things in balance.
Francis Sullivan is the chief executive officer of Catholic Health Australia.