- by: Sue Dunlevy and Karen Dearne
- From: The Australian
- May 12, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012
With The Senate Estimates Committee Reviewing DoHA and NEHTA Very Soon We Know What Some Questions Will Be About.
The following appeared yesterday:
PHARMACEUTICAL companies have been forced to curb their extravagant entertainment of doctors, but e-health is emerging as the latest gravy train in the health sector and this time it's the taxpayer footing the bill.
Yet the biggest e-health gravy train is being run by the body in charge of setting up the new personally controlled e-health record, the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).
The e-health system will barely be operational from its July 1 start date, but the body in charge of the $760 million system is spending taxpayers' money on lavish seafood dinners, after-dinner speakers, flights and accommodation in connection with functions held in five-star hotels.
Critics are questioning the way NEHTA has spent its three-year, $218m budget after revelations that it has held 731 functions for stakeholders since January last year, while the e-health system is behind schedule.
NEHTA told a Senate estimates committee it had spent $871,000 on taxi fares in the past two financial years, $118,000 on business class international airfares and $2.1m in total on travel.
"Depending on the duration of the function, food may be provided," she points out.
But Weekend Health has learned many of these functions were held in five-star hotels in Sydney, and often included a three-course dinner for hundreds of people in hotel dining rooms, and a comedian or motivational dinner speaker.
Opposition e-health spokesman Andrew Southcott claims the scheme has all the signs of being "pink batts on steroids".
"The fact they are spending money on these dinners when on July 1 no health provider will be able to use an e-health record is scandalous," he says.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton says the amount NEHTA has been spending on entertainment is "shocking", especially as it is still unclear whether it has done the job it was set up to do.
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has been forced to play down expectations about the new scheme as NEHTA runs behind time in delivering the system.
All most patients will be able to do from July 1 is register interest in a personally controlled e-health record, because doctors, hospitals and health services won't have the software to run it.
NEHTA has refused to answer questions about the cost of the dinners and stakeholder meetings but event manager Forum Group Events says it would typically cost about $85 a head to run a two-day conference at a five-star hotel for more than 100 people. A three-course dinner with drinks would typically cost about $120 a head.
Weekend Health is aware of four such dinners held in the past 13 months.
Disclosure: Karen Dearne attended a NEHTA-funded lunch in Canberra in 2010.
More revelations and details are found here.
I am told Budget Senate Estimates hearings will be held from Monday, 21 May to Thursday, 24 May and Monday 28 May to Thursday, 31 May 2012.
Looking at the program it looks like the DoHA / NEHTA hearings will be in the second week. The current program is found here:
While admitting that all this seems vastly over the top at first glance I think the sensible thing to do it to wait to form judgement until after the Senate Estimates Hearings. I think you can be sure the questions are already being developed in the offices of the relevant Senators.
I have also to say that conversations I have had with people who know a good deal more than I do about the individual events do suggest there has been at the very least a level of largess and expenditure that might have been just a little excessive. It is hard to know just why comedians and the like are necessary unless they bring specific domain expertise - which I doubt.
I am sure the Estimates hearings will make for interesting watching - they can all be watched on line via live streaming via this link.
I will let people know as soon as possible when the relevant session(s) are on.
Posted by Dr David G More MB PhD at Sunday, May 13, 2012