14 March 2012
Andrew discusses the public health care crisis in Tasmania.
Mr WILKIE (Denison) (19:55): Public health in Tasmania is in crisis. For instance, my home state has some of the worst health statistics in Australia including those to do with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and a range of cancers. This is no accident of nature, but rather the consequence of many things including the fact that successive Tasmanian governments have failed to effectively promote wellness in the community, including the state government’s disinterest this year in the opposition’s attempt to establish a joint select committee on preventative health. Just as clear is the failure of both the federal and state governments to build and run a public health system in Tasmania capable of treating these unwell Tasmanians.
Tasmanian medical professionals approach me constantly and complain not of future difficulties but of the dramas which swamp them already and which signal the collapse of health care in the state unless something is done urgently. Just this morning, for example, I received another email from Dr Graeme Alexander, a doctor for 30 years currently practicing as a GP in Claremont. Now I do not agree with everything Dr Alexander has to say, and I have copped my share of his outspokenness over the last 18 months, but a lot of what he says is worth listening to. He wrote: ‘I cannot convey to you how desperate things are at present. Our workforce is now depleted and demoralised, many are now openly talking about their plans to leave, particularly those starting out or recently qualified. If we are going to turn things around we need to act now. We not only need a federal takeover, we need the federal government to recognise the failings of their health and hospital reform.’
In summary the federal and state government promised: more doctors and nurses, and they failed; earlier access to elective surgery, and they failed; more funding for our public hospitals, and they failed; and no more blame game, and they failed. We need to start listening to people like Graeme Alexander, and the federal and Tasmanian governments need to put their heads together and finally work out how to save the Tasmanian health system before it is too late. Surely the most important thing they should do is figure out how to transition responsibility for Tasmania’s hospitals from the current mangled arrangement to full federal responsibility.
Yes, I know health minister, Tanya Plibersek, and her predecessor, Nicola Roxon, have already dismissed this idea. But that must not be the end of it because federal responsibility for health care is inevitable and the longer Canberra remains in a state of denial the closer the states and territories are to reaching the meltdown reached early in Tasmania. If the Gillard government finds that too hard or too public an admission that its health reforms were in fact just a new funding deal then there is no good reason whatsoever why Canberra should not at least agree to an emergency injection of funding for Tasmania’s operational health expenses accompanied by a review of the state’s health system overall. None of which would let the Tasmanian government off the hook because in the interim it must do what it can to keep alive what is left of the dying public health system. For instance, it must seriously consider closing one of the north-west Tasmanian hospitals and this must be supported by Labor, the Greens and Liberals, who, until now, have cynically put their political self-interest ahead of such a move. Moreover, the remaining hospitals must specialise more to increase capability and save money, and one small health bureaucracy must replace the practice of three of everything.
Someone has to finally stand up to those who exploit the system, as does one particular surgeon who operates four days a week on insured patients at Hobart Private Hospital and sends his many patients needing uninsured revisions to the Royal Hobart Hospital where he operates on them again, this time as priority public patients, for which he is paid by the public system. In other words, his patients are jumping the queue and taxpayers are picking up the tab.
Health care is obviously one of the most important responsibilities of the federal and state governments, but they are letting us down badly right now, and people are literally dying. Those people are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community. It does not need to be this way.
The SPEAKER: Order! It being after 8 pm, the debate is interrupted.