WHEN I was a child, my mother took me to inner-city Sydney to visit Santa Claus. I would tell the successor of Saint Nicholas, bishop of Anatolia, whether I had been good and my Christmas requests.
Hoping to do something similar in 2012 with my own brood, I encountered something a little different …
I rubbed my eyes and squinted. What was I seeing?
People were lined up to see “Santanya”, a friendly looking blonde woman sitting on a throne. But who was Santanya and why were all the people in the line doctors, nurses and other health workers? Were there no families left in the inner city?
As we advanced in the queue, one of Santanya’s helpers walked by and prodded us to stay in line. I asked the helper — who looked more like a bureaucrat than an elf — what was going on.
“Santanya is from the Kingdom of Canberra and her workshop is the Parliamentary Castle”, said the helper.
“Do you make toys and gifts for children?”, I asked.
“No. We make health policy and government grants for working families”, she replied.
“Oh! So I can ask for some health outcomes?”
“Just don’t ask for money. Santanya has no money this year. And you can only see her if you have registered for the PCEHR [personally controlled electronic health record, if you want to add it to your wish list]”, retorted the bureaucrat.
Edging towards Santanya’s throne I was getting a little nervous. Two medical students who had just seen Santanya walked past with tears in their eyes. I asked them what was wrong.
“Santanya cannot promise us jobs. That’s all we wanted for Christmas”, they cried.
Next a beaming woman walked past, smiling like a Cheshire cat. She was wearing a party hat printed with the letters AHPRA [Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency]. I asked why she was so happy. “Santanya has let us raise our fees, put on more staff, handle more complaints and may even let us set yearly exams for doctors. Power, money and people! We got it all!”, she said.
Some mates from the AMA were next — heads were down, shoulders drooping.
“Hey guys, what’s the matter?”
“We asked for indexing of Medicare and she said no. We asked for more hospital beds and she said no. We asked for more training places for junior doctors and she gave us a fraction of what is needed”, they said.
“Maybe you’ve been naughty”, I quipped. “What do you have to do to be nice?”
“Santanya said we need to stop being greedy, hire more nurses, focus on teamwork, reduce hospital admissions and encourage bulk-billing”, they replied.
Just as I neared the top of the queue, some men in akubras stepped away from the throne, again despondent. Identifying me as one of their own, they said: “Streuth! She’s stripped telehealth and won’t expand the Closing the Gap scheme for Indigenous people. Workforce is dire and she won’t even contemplate rural complexity item numbers.”
With only one person ahead of me in line, I turned to the kids: “I think we’ll skip the photo with Santa this year and head for the beach right now.”
As we left our place in the queue, one of the friendly bureaucrats reminded us to use sunscreen, wear hats, avoid junk food, not leave a carbon footprint, drive safely and remember that the government is always there to help. We could dial a nurse on a free-call number 24/7 if we came to grief, meaning we’d never need to visit an emergency department.
“Thanks …” I said to Santanya’s helper, and then ran as fast as I could.
Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2013 to all!
Dr Aniello Iannuzzi is a GP practising in Coonabarabran, NSW.
Posted 10 December 2012