Tuesday 30 October 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

 Shortfall in Funding for Our State Public Hospitals


[12.35 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, given most of the issues spoken about here today, under the present state Government the hospital crisis seems to be going from bad to worse.  The minister keeps saying there is a plan.  If there is a plan, it does not seem to be very effective at this time.

I have a question to the Government, through the Leader, and it may not come in question time today, about the prospect and ramifications of Tasmania losing some federal funding because of the $600 million cut announced by the Commonwealth.

We are constantly hearing in our inquiry about the adverse effect the present situation is having on hospital patients and emergency departments.  I feel for the morale of hospital staff; as mentioned by the shadow minister today, they are being treated appallingly.

Any member of parliament who has served as a health minister recognises it is a very difficult and, at times, unrewarding job.  I sympathise, but it is a job that has to be done properly and as we have heard today, there are plenty of concerns.

[12.36 p.m.]
Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Mr President, I have a couple of answers I will relay when I have finished the Government's contribution.  Anything that I do not or cannot answer today, I ask members to put as questions without notice, which might be the appropriate way to go.

I am pleased to speak on the matter of public importance raised by the member for Launceston.  As discussed, the Minister for Health, Michael Ferguson, has recently travelled around the state holding a series of public forums.  This is an innovation started by Mr Ferguson, and one that was never undertaken with such regularity across Tasmania under previous governments.  These forums provide an open and constructive way of connecting with local communities.  Forums have been held each year for the past five years and there have been more than 20 public meetings and events during Mr Ferguson's time as minister.

The minister has asked that I acknowledge and thank the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Pervan; Tasmania's Chief Psychiatrist, Dr Aaron Groves; Co‑Director of nursing at the North West Regional Hospital, Hayley Elmer; and the acting General Manager of the Mersey Community Hospital, Anthony Hurst, for their insightful contributions and presentations at the various forums.

These forums are important; they provide opportunities for communities to participate in a broad discussion about the health system, to hear about the progress of important developments in health and to ask questions.  The Government welcomes feedback from Tasmanians about what is working well with our health system and what we could be doing better.

I attended the Burnie forum, as I have in the past, and was able to see firsthand how the minister listened to complaints, compliments and suggestions made by those in attendance.  I note in particular the calls at Burnie from Jo Shugg, wife of the deeply respected Dr Bert Shugg, paediatrician, for an end to the politicisation of health in Tasmania.  She noted with concern the alarmist commentary by some, which was not based on the truth and came at the expense of the trust of the public in their health system.  This was noted by a few other people.  I am not talking about the member; I am talking about other people who have a lack of understanding as to what is happening.

I am advised the member for Mersey attended in Devonport and raised issues regarding the sustainability of local GP practices, which led to a constructive discussion across the floor at the forum.

There is no doubt this is a very important area of the health system and, while primarily in the domain of the Commonwealth Government, the state Government acknowledges it as fundamentally important to Tasmanians and it will continue to do all it can to support the viability and sustainability of GP practices.

The Government commends these comments and all the feedback provided over the week.  The Government will take heed of it all as we work to deliver the best possible health system for Tasmania.  We will never stop listening as we go about our task of rebuilding our health system.

Our health system staff are doing a remarkable job dealing with periods of high demand, and it is important we continue to act to support staff and deliver the health system Tasmanians deserve.

In the member for Launceston's electorate a number of initiatives are underway, including the redevelopment of Ward 4K and the state's first-ever child and adolescent mental health facility.

As this MPI is based on finances, I have some of them to run through. 

Major excavations of the women's and children's precinct site at the Launceston General Hospital are now complete and building work is progressing well.

The Ward 4K redevelopment will provide a new 36-bed contemporary facility that will include Tasmania's first dedicated adolescent mental health unit, along with a number of specialist clinics.  Within the unit there will be six single bedrooms designed to meet contemporary adolescent mental health requirements.  There will be a separate lounge, dining and outdoor area for patients.  Refurbishing the ward will mean that facilities meet the latest in modern standards and ensure the highest quality of healthcare services are available to patients.  Structural work has also begun on a 38-space undercover car park below the extension.

The relocation of the women's and children's antenatal and postnatal outpatients clinic, which currently operates in Ward 3D, will free up space in the hospital for up to 32 more inpatient beds. 

The children's ward remains fully functional during the construction period.  The first stage of the project, including the adolescent mental health facility, is on track for completion in 2019.  Details of each of these were provided at the recent public forum in Launceston.

With significant regard to the advertising and notice given to the public for each forum, I am advised that the forums were first announced on 16 October, the week before they commenced, as part of a ministerial statement on health in the other place.

This was reported in the press, including in the Examiner, the following day along with contact details.  There were full-page advertisements in the three regional newspapers on the Saturday before the forums, and there was radio coverage on ABC morning radio on the week of the forum as well as other media promoting the forums.

The forums around the state were well attended.  I am advised in Launceston approximately 40 people attended.  The Government will take on board feedback from the member for Launceston when organising the next round of public forums next year.  The minister would like to express his gratitude to those who were able to attend and contribute to the forum.  In Launceston there was a great variety of discussion and debate around a range of matters, at times robust but always respectful from all parties.

The feedback from these forums is important to help improve services and guide the Government's investments.

With regard to the proposed move of the wastewater treatment plant at Macquarie Point, it is important to note that this will clear the way for the site to reach its full potential, unlock massive investment in the state, create jobs and deliver a nationally unique site for the community.

The state Government has stated it is prepared to make additional funding available to assist TasWater to decommission and relocate the Macquarie Point wastewater treatment plant subject to a funding model being developed that is acceptable to TasWater, its local government owners, the state Government and potentially the federal government.

Furthermore, together with TasWater, we are of the view that subject to the funding plan being agreed, the plant would be removed within about four years, allowing the Macquarie Point site to be developed fully without the inhibiting factor, while also enabling an appropriate cashflow to be built into future budgets over several years.

Ms Armitage - Is it $140 million or do they have any idea of how much additional funding it will be?

Mrs HISCUTT - I will have to put that on the Notice Paper.

The Government will always face competing interests for funding, as you would be aware, and will ensure it gets the balance right across portfolios to deliver essential services while at the same time growing the economy and increasing investment and generating jobs in Tasmania. 

I finish with a note on the Government's investment in health.  The Government's last budget included an additional $465 million investment in health, compared to the previous budget.  This includes the commencement of the $757 million plan over the next six years, which will see the recruitment of an estimated 1300 additional staff.  This includes almost 300 additional hospital beds to take pressure off our emergency departments, as well as an investment in Hospital in the Home programs to improve waiting times and access to care. 

When the demand for health services continues to rise, governments need to make choices and this Government has chosen to hire more staff and treat more patients.  The Government has demonstrated that it will respond and act when demand in the health system continues to grow. 

The Government is investing more than 30 per cent of the state's total budget on health.  That is putting Tasmania in the top two in the nation for health spending. 

I have an answer for the member for McIntyre:   I have confirmed with the minister that the Government will not close any rural or regional hospitals.  That is our commitment.  The minister recently stated this at each public forum.

Further, all eight northern rural hospitals - Deloraine, Scottsdale, Campbell Town, St Helens, St Marys, George Town, Flinders Island and Beaconsfield - were assessed against the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards and were awarded accreditation.  All northern community-based services were reviewed earlier this year by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and were assessed as meeting all the expected outcomes of the Home Care Standards.  Feedback included that Primary Health North provides effective quality care and services with a strong focus on evidence-based and patient-centred care. 

These latest accreditations show the public that they can have full confidence in the Tasmanian Health Service to deliver safe and professional services. 

Regarding the member for Launceston's question about the echocardiographer at the Launceston General Hospital, I can advise that recruitment for that position will start very soon. 

I thank members for their contributions.  I know the minister is listening in and will be reading the Hansard to inform himself of exactly what has been said through this debate.