Poor health services for the disadvantaged

Issue 

Linda Seaborn, Hobart

After three and a half years in the job, David Jackson, the clinical director of Alcohol and Drug Services in Tasmania's Department of Health and Human Services, resigned in early February, saying he could no longer tolerate seeing young people die because they couldn't access the state's methadone program.

He also said he'd had enough of the general orientation of health services away from disadvantaged and working-class people. "The World Health Organisation recommends that every Third World country have an accessible methadone program. The Tasmanian lack of access to essential treatment is worse than many Third World countries. This leads to unnecessary deaths of young people and needs to be addressed", he told Green Left Weekly.

"The waiting list for methadone has no foreseeable end. We wouldn't and don't do this to other people with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, etc. We need a public methadone clinic, staffed by doctors, nurses and social workers", Jackson said.

People seeking treatment for drug-related health problems need access to social workers, as well as doctors and nurses, because they often have problems beyond their immediate health needs. They may be homeless, unemployed, experiencing family breakdown or have a mental illness. Jackson called on health services to develop an understanding of the factors that prevent many people — often those most in need — from accessing services.

He spoke about the link between drugs and poverty. That is, people who are being done over by capitalism are more likely to use drugs to cope. For example, we hear that the number of people smoking tobacco in Australia is decreasing but we don't hear that it is mostly better-off people who are giving up smoking. Smoking rates for poor and working-class people remain the same.

Workers in health services need to develop a class consciousness and ensure that services are accessible to the most disadvantaged, particularly the unemployed, drug addicted and mentally ill. This would be a great project for the Health and Community Services Union to take up.

From Green Left Weekly, March 8, 2006.
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