Thursday 23 June 2011
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I cannot remember a time when there has not been uncertainty over the Tasmanian health system. If we think about it, there is continuous uncertainty over annual budgets as much now as probably at any former time. Uncertainty over budgets means uncertainty over staff levels in our three major acute-care hospitals, no more so than now, Madam President. It is stating the obvious to say that this ongoing uncertainty is bad for staff morale, but it is also detrimental to community morale, especially for older people and those with chronic conditions. I know that continuing budget uncertainty is also bad for the morale of State Health ministers. I think a sainthood should go with the job.
The chronic uncertainty over Health budgets, Madam President, has one major cause: our community needs more health care. We can remember a time when there was no such thing as a CAT scan. Our grandparents can remember a time when there were no antibiotics and surgeons were far less effective in keeping patients alive. The demand for health services will continue to increase and there is a health statistic that has been doing the rounds for some years now. I think I first mentioned it here to the former Treasurer, Michael Aird, about three years ago and he took notice. I said that if the Tasmanian Budget continues at its present annual increase, in little more than a decade there will be only two cabinet ministers: there will be the Premier and the Health minister because there will not be anything left for other services or infrastructure. What is to be done?
It is absolutely imperative that people take more care and more responsibility for their health. Madam President, yesterday in your budget reply speech you talked about the need for people to be more responsible about their health, and that is the case. This means lifestyle changes that many people are reluctant to make, mainly because they have to give something up. Tobacco has to go, alcohol has to go, the dependence on cars has to stop and the food, which gives us so much pleasure like that beautiful pork last night. The rice and the pork; wasn't that magnificent? That would have to go.
The argument over lifestyle and health is not going to go away, Madam President. However, some progress towards a healthy community is being made. Some people's health problems are now being managed outside hospital beds. People are managing their health problems more themselves, especially chronic conditions such as respiratory diseases, diabetes and renal problems. The Launceston people with kidney problems now have dialysis outside the Launceston General Hospital at a new dialysis centre at Kings Meadows. Some patients with respiratory problems can attend regular clinics where they undertake specially supervised exercise.
Ms Forrest - Some people have home dialysis too.
Mr FINCH - Yes, that is right. Madam President, these sorts of things only work properly if there is efficient integration between primary health and acute care. A community health structure needs to be able to easily transfer patients to more appropriate places for their care, whether it is an acute-care hospital like the LGH or a community care hospital like Beaconsfield in my electorate of Rosevears.
I spoke earlier of the endemic uncertainty over our health system. One uncertainty was removed last week when the State Government finally confirmed that Tasmania would continue with its three area health services.
Ms Forrest - That is crazy, a crazy comment.
Mr FINCH - They are vital in the integration of primary health care; they are vital in giving communities a say in how their area health systems are managed. The three services, especially the Northern Area Health Service, have been running effectively for several years. I can see the member for Murchison now booking in a special interest debate spot to reply to this.
Ms Forrest - I would like to change mine today, I think.
Mr FINCH - It would have been a disaster to dismember them, although that was being seriously contemplated, Madam President. The Minister for Health, Michelle O'Byrne, announced on 15 June that the Government had reaffirmed its commitment to establish three local hospital networks. She said:
'The Government has carefully considered all the information that it has on the most appropriate structure for establishing Local Hospital Networks in Tasmania ...
In light of the budget situation, we reviewed our original decision.
That decision stands. The State Government is satisfied that three Networks is the best model for the overall delivery of services to the community.
We are confident that three Local Hospital Networks will build on the early success of the three Area Health Services and lead to improved patient experiences.'
That was the Health minister, still un-sainted, with her announcement last week and I would like to have been a fly on the wall in the cabinet room for those discussions, but at least our communities have got what they need. However, it is probably too much to hope for that there will now be certainty in Tasmania's health system.