COVID-19: The lie of being caught by surprise

In times of rapid change, it's easy for myths to take root, and with the Covid 19 virus that has already happened.

The core myth evident in the past few weeks, actually voiced by our Prime Minister, is that nobody could have seen this coming.

It's a view very suited to his needs because the alternative is to contemplate the most shocking levels of blame. The premise I would like you to consider is that such blame is actually totally deserved - not by our PM but by many decades of governments, federal and state.

We simply don't have the health system to cope. When engineers design a bridge or an airliner, they allow wide margins for extreme events. But our hospitals are equipped for barely scraping by, there is no built-in capacity for anything going wrong, larger than a bus crash. And yet virus pandemics can absolutely be expected.

Anthony Fauci, America's leading epidemiologist, seen wincing and biting his lip behind Trump in numerous press conferences this week, warned of this in 2007. His exact words were - we must expect surprises.

There have been at least six animal to human pandemics in the last 30 years. But this one - quick to infect, slow to be noticed, is the worst possible combination. And it was absolutely on the cards.

Australia's health system is of a high quality. Its based on the British NHS, probably the greatest single legacy of Labor governments of all time. But like the NHS, it's been hollowed out to a ghost of its intended scope or accessibility.

I first realized this when I sat with one of my children in a hospital in northern NSW, waiting for them to have a gastroscopy; an uncomfortable but simple procedure that takes just a few minutes. In the waiting room we sat beside an unwell looking elderly man. He told us it had taken 14 months for him to get a spot. I was appalled, too embarrassed to tell him that with private health insurance, we'd had to wait only three weeks.

In that one example lies all that is wrong with health provision -it's deeply unfair, and it's simply under-resourced. That's because health spending in Australia is the result of an endless tug of war between left wing thinking that it should be free for all, and right wing thinking that the user should always pay.

So the swings between Labor and LNP governments result in moderate increases, followed by moderate decreases, around a median that itself is far from adequate. The result is ambulances cramped with patients awaiting treatment, suicides among overworked young doctors, and people waiting years for procedures that could have saved lives, and dollars if done sooner.

This is the setting into which you or I might find ourselves being treated for COVID-19.

The anger at lack of planning for last summer's bushfires is nothing compared to the anger that will grow as tens of thousands of our beloved family members lose their lives in the coming year, without sufficient respirators or ICU beds to treat them.

Many hundreds of health professionals will die attempting to treat them, as is already starting to happen around the world.

We will begin to realize that it would not have happened if our health system had not been so run down, and that nobody cared enough to fix it.

Steve Biddulph AM is the author The New Manhood

This story COVID-19: the lie of being caught by surprise first appeared on The Canberra Times.