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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Senator Sue Boyce Slams Rudd Government Efforts on E-Health. Game On for Progress in E-Health I Hope!

At last it seems we are now going to get some serious debate on just what is happening with e-Health with the Opposition firing the first salvo!

Here is a release from an few hours ago.


The Rudd Government's electronic health system had a snowball's chance in hell of being ready by its announced introduction date of July 1, Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, said today.

"This system which is supposed to be a state-of-the-art nationally integrated system to provide all Australians with their own identifier number is crippled by inept management, hopeless dithering and a complete lack of any political leadership," Senator Boyce said.

The system is also supposed to provide identifier numbers to all health care providers (and consumers).

Senator Boyce, a member of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, said evidence she had been provided on February 10 during Estimates about the state of the e-health network had been wildly and falsely optimistic.

"I was assured then by a senior Health Department bureaucrat that trials of the e-health system were already underway yet only days ago a Health Department spokeswoman was quoted as saying that work is yet to begin on the system," Senator Boyce said.

"I have written to the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, asking her to explain why what I was told on February 10 in the Senate hearings appears in retrospect to have been so wrong and so utterly misleading, given the statement by the Health Department spokeswoman published recently," she said.

Senator Boyce said the hopeless management of the e-health system by the Rudd Government was underlined by the fact that the legislation to establish the system had not even been introduced to the Senate.

"The fact that we are only ten weeks or so away from the July 1 implementation date and the Rudd Government hasn't even got around to having the legislation required to establish the system introduced, speaks volumes about how badly the whole process has been mismanaged," Senator Boyce said.

"This is another example of how the Rudd Government handles the implementation of its grand schemes – big promises, massive spin and then hopeless bungling. Clearly, there is a pattern of failure across the board," Senator Boyce said.

"I would not be surprised, given how long it will take to get the system eventually bedded down, that we will go to the election with – at best – a patched-together and incomplete system," she said.

April 14, 2010-04-14


----- End Release.

Here is a copy of the letter which Senator Boyce has sent to the Health Minister.

April 14, 2010

Hon Nicola Roxon MP

Minister for Health and Ageing

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister

On February 10, 2010, as a member of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, I asked several questions during the Additional Budget process Estimates hearing of your Departmental staff about progress on the implementation of the e-health project.

The following exchange, as recorded by Hansard, occurred between myself and Ms Liz Forman, Assistant Secretary, eHealth Branch, after I had asked about who in the primary care sector NEHTA had been working with in terms of developing an implementation pathway:

Senator Boyce: When did the work on implementation with each of these organisations in the primary care sector and the primary care software vendors begin?

Ms Forman: That work and that collaboration is still very much at the discussion stage I think.

Senator Boyce: So has the work actually commenced or are they talking about working?

Ms Forman: They are talking about working. They also have a working group relating to secure messaging where quite a significant amount of work has been done with the vendors.

Senator Boyce: Is secure messaging being undertaken or is talk about secure messaging happening?

Ms Forman: Talk and development of software so the vendors are able to work towards bringing their software in line with the NEHTA specifications and then testing that.

Senator Boyce: So that is being trialled?

Ms Forman: That is underway.

Senator Boyce: Are there actual trials happening? Is software that has been developed to meet the NEHTA specifications actually being trialled right now?

Ms Forman: It is being developed and we are expecting there to be a testing workshop in April.

Subsequently, I was advised in response to a Question on Notice (Question: E10-423) that; "NEHTA is working with a significant number of vendors on implementation matters across both the primary care and jurisdictional environment" and a lengthy list of companies was attached. I had asked specifically for "a list of who are the primary care sector vendors that NEHTA has been working with in terms of developing an implementation pathway."

In response to Question on Notice E10-424, I was advised that; "the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) Secure Messaging Connectathon will take place in Canberra from the 19-23 April, 2010". That response provided details about how the testing workshop would be conducted.

Given all of these confident predictions, I was surprised to read in The Australian (April 13, 2010) an article; "E-Health ID work yet to start" by Karen Dearne.

In that article, Ms Dearne wrote that; "six months after assuring a Senate committee that the National E-Health Transition Authority was working with primary care software firms over the proposed national Healthcare Identifier system, the federal Health Department has conceded work is yet to begin."

A spokeswoman for your Department was quoted as saying; "Currently there are no implementation projects within primary care being funded" and that your Department was "unable to supply a list of medical practice vendors previously said to be working with Nehta on an 'implementation pathway'."

Now, I learn from this story that the lengthy list that I was provided when I asked specifically for the list of "primary care sector vendors that NEHTA has been working with in terms of developing an implementation pathway" is, in fact, a list of "eligible suppliers".

I refer you specifically to the evidence of Ms Forman, quoted earlier, when she said that trials were already underway and ask how you can reconcile this evidence with the published statement by a Departmental spokeswoman in The Australian that there were no implementation projects being funded.

I also refer you to the information provided to me in response to Question on Notice E10-424 about the testing workshop expected to commence within days. Will that workshop still take place and, if not, why it has been delayed and when it might take place?

I also ask for your categorical assurance that this system will operate flawlessly and smoothly from July 1, 2010, as the government and your Department have always asserted.

Yours sincerely

Sue Boyce

Senator for Queensland.

---- End Letter.

All I can say is that this intervention is an unequivocally good thing as what is needed now is serious political engagement, from both sides, with all aspects of e-Health to see if some sensible, properly managed, planned and funded e-Health approach can be finally delivered.

Sweeping e-Health under the carpet was a very bad idea and we can now see.

All power to the Opposition for at least starting the Debate for real!



Andrew Patterson said...

She'd really be on to something except that she asked a question about 'secure messaging' and the story in the Oz is about 'health identifiers'. Given they are completely different projects I'm not sure we should be surprised that the answers vary. I mean, there is actually a secure messaging connectathon next week. I presume someone is turning up to that. So the hansard answer is correct.

Not that this means I think they'll have health identifiers running by July 1 - but this is more Godwin Grech than Watergate..

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately this press release also shows the lack of depth of knowledge of Senator Boyce. The HI Service is not the "electronic health system" but just one aspect of it. Though the department must share the blame in that they are continually mixing up those aspects.

Dr David G More MB PhD said...

I watched Senator Boyce at the Senate Estimates Inquiry on the HI Service and take it from me she pretty clearly understands this pretty well.

Press releases, of their very nature, are in more generalities than we might like - but hey, that's life!

The confusion from the Department I have to say I see more as obfuscation than anything else and they are very good at it!