Medicine faces a crisis

3d rendering of an old soviet flag on a dirty wall (Leyonhjelm story)

May 1946: Plans for the socialisation and nationalisation of medical services imperil the future of pharmacy, AJP claims  

Far-reaching plans for the nationalisation of medical services in both Australia and Great Britain threatened the survival of pharmacy as the profession would be caught in the wake of the sweeping changes being proposed. 

That was the view expressed in the May 1946 edition of AJP. In the aftermath of the Second World War, which ended in the previous year, the ALP government of Prime Minister Ben Chifley was looking at major changes to the way health was provided in Australia. 

“Information concerning the details of the Commonwealth Government’s Scheme is still vague,” the AJP said.

“The Federal Minister for Health, Senator Fraser, however, has announced that the conference of Health Ministers, held at Canberra early in May, decided that a committee of officers should be appointed to report upon the practical aspects of a National Medical Service, which should satisfy the following essential requirements:—

(1) Every person in Australia should be entitled to medical attention without regard to his economic
status and without any direct charge for the service.

(2) This medical service shall include a full range of medical attention, including all modern diagnostic and specialist services.

(3) All necessary medical centres should be established and maintained by the Commonwealth, but
existing hospitals will be utilised wherever possible.

The Commonwealth will accept the financial responsibility for the medical staff. The committee shall, if it considers it necessary under any circumstances, recommend that the States act on behalf of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth, under full powers, will pass the necessary legislation”.

The British Labor government, at a time when Australia still looked to the UK for leadership on many issues, was going even further with its proposed National Health Service Bill, which included “a salaried medical service, formation of health centres throughout the country, complete Government control of hospitals, prohibition of transfers of medical practices, etc.”

The medical profession of both countries was in uproar over the proposals saying “under the Bill the Minister really is in the position of a dictator.”

“The development of the Australian plans will depend upon the result of the forthcoming powers referendum,” the AJP article said.

“If granted the powers it seeks in regard to social services the Commonwealth will proceed with its programme. If it fails it will seek to implement its plans through co-operation with the State Governments—assuming, of course, that the present Government is returned to power”.

So what did it mean for pharmacy? AJP said “as to pharmacy—it knows nothing officially of the scheme”.

“As the scheme being arranged is to include all ancillary services, it is assumed therefore that the details are being worked out by the Minister’s departmental officers, and that in keeping with past policy the complete scheme, designed without consultation with those with practical working knowledge of the conditions of the profession, will be presented for acceptance by the profession.

If this prognostication be correct, the outlook for the successful functioning of the scheme and for the future of pharmacy is not bright”.

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