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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16435

Mr LINDSAY (5:27 PM) —I would like to raise the issue of the ongoing problems of Townsville Hospital. Townsville Hospital is a very new hospital, having been commissioned only two years ago. It is a level 6 hospital. It is the most modern hospital in the state of Queensland. Wonderful people operate the hospital and it has very good infrastructure. But week after week, there are ongoing crises at the Townsville Hospital. Back in February, the hospital was branded the hospital with the worst waiting list in the state, and my community is not going to tolerate that. It is high time that the Queensland state government recognised that there are very serious problems. Fundamental to that, the state government has to understand the bureaucracy that runs the hospital system, where the root cause lies. It has to understand that the whole reason for having a hospital system is to look after patients. Time after time, incident after incident, I see a situation where the bean counters get a preference over the patients in relation to what is done at the hospital. That cannot be allowed to continue. My community are sick and tired of it and totally fed up with the treatment that they are getting in relation to the services provided at Townsville Hospital. It has to be fixed.

To that end, I have taken the lead on this issue, because the state members are not doing anything. They are basically out of sight on this particular issue; I have taken the lead. Last week I wrote to 50,000 people in Townsville and Thuringowa, asking them to give me their support to get a clear message to the Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, asking him to fix the problems at Townsville Hospital. The Queensland health minister seems incapable of fixing the problems and of getting her bureaucracy to know and understand that our community will not continue to suffer these kinds of problems. It might well be that these kinds of problems exist over the whole of the state of Queensland, but I am interested in Townsville. I am interested in the people that I represent, and I demand nothing short of proper service to people who need health care.

I have had some horror stories. Half of the mail-out went out and was delivered only on Friday. Already, this morning, my office has received over 1,000 responses. That is the level of concern that exists in my community. It has been an extraordinary result, and I hope that this extraordinary result will make the state government sit up and take notice—and know and understand that the people of Townsville and Thuringowa are not going to cop a health service that is second-rate.

Some of the responses that have come through today—and this is just a selection—are as follows. Mrs H. of Condon says:

I have a much-loved niece who recently received a very grim prognosis for liver cancer and has to temporarily reside in Brisbane to receive necessary treatment.

Why are patients having to travel 1,200 kilometres to Brisbane to receive treatment? From Ms P.:

I have been waiting also for an appointment for a cancer to be cut out and have been forced to have it done privately. I am on a part pension.

The state hospital will not look after a person with cancer. Mrs S. of Condon says:

I am currently waiting for treatment at the hospital. I have been advised that it will take over two years even to have my first, initial consultation.

What a dreadful situation. From Mrs J., who is a theatre nurse at Townsville Hospital:

I have witnessed firsthand the cancellation of patients to avoid nursing staff doing overtime—

—that is, patients' operations—

While nobody likes doing overtime, I do not like my patients waiting for hours unnecessarily. I especially do not like being told by my IT managers at the end of the month that data collected shows our theatre utilisation times are too low. It is impossible to maintain high theatre utilisation times if we are forced to cancel patients' operations to avoid paying overtime. These cancellations occur on a regular basis, and they are a problem—a problem that could be solved with adequate public hospital funding.

Mr W. from Douglas suffers from myeloma and believes that, in order to obtain proper treatment, you will have to commute to Brisbane at the cost of `at least $1,000 a trip'. Mr M. visited the hospital for a cardiac test that had been booked weeks before. He was told that his test had been cancelled because the doctor had left the hospital's employ the day before and there was no backup doctor available. His test had to be rescheduled for two weeks later. That is for a cardiac patient. Mr O'B.'s wife has been waiting for an operation for varicose veins since 1997. Mr T.'s sister has cancer and is caught up in the waiting list at the hospital. Mrs T. asks:

What is the point of getting early detection tests done if you cannot get early treatment?

I think that is a pretty fair question to ask. Mr U. has been waiting for 30 months for a throat operation to enable him to breathe properly. How could a hospital system leave a patient who needs to breathe properly on a waiting list for 30 months?

Mrs S. suffered an injury to her right eardrum in September 2002. It took six months before she could see a specialist at the Townsville Hospital, and she is now on a waiting list for an operation that could mean waiting another 12 months. Mr McD. has been on a waiting list for six or seven years for an operation on his legs. It is now too late for him to have the operation, as his doctor has now told him that he must not have any more operations. Goodness gracious—six or seven years on a waiting list, and you get to the stage where the patient cannot have the operation. What a way to clear waiting lists!

Mrs N. has been waiting for almost two years to have surgery which, at most, would mean half an hour in the theatre and a day in hospital, but two years later she has not been able to have the operation. Mrs C. has been on a waiting list for day surgery for over four years. Mr H.—listen to this one—was suffering severe chest pains in April 2002. He went to the emergency department, where he was told to come back the next day. He insisted on seeing a doctor. Four hours later, he had his blood pressure taken and it was found that he was having a heart attack. He was admitted to coronary care and operated on days later.

The list goes on and on. That is just a sample of what my office has received today, but there is a fundamental solution to this particular problem. I have asked my people to indicate this to Mr Beattie, the state Premier. The federal government, under the new Australian five-year health care agreement, have offered the states a massive increase in public hospital funding. For Queensland, it means an extra $851 million. That is money that can be spent fixing the problems of Townsville Hospital. All the federal government have asked the states to do is match the increase that we are providing. It surely is eminently sensible that the state government and the federal government should participate in the funding of the hospital system, and they should do it in a partnership process.

We have also asked the state governments simply to spend the money that is given to them on hospitals. Some state governments have been found out—it is very difficult, but they have been found out—spending money provided for hospital systems on roads and other state government responsibilities. That cannot be allowed to continue, and the Commonwealth is not going to allow it to continue. We are making it a condition of the next five-year health care agreement that states spend money given for hospitals on hospitals. The problem for our community is that the state government and Mr Beattie have just said, `No, we don't agree. We don't accept the Commonwealth's offer. We think those terms and conditions are too onerous.'

What is onerous about expecting hospital funding to actually be spent on hospitals? What is onerous about demanding that it be spent on hospitals? That is what the people of my community want. What is onerous about asking the state government to match the federal government's increase? Queensland stands to lose $851 million; patients stand to stay on waiting lists, as I have indicated, for four and five years—or until it is just too late to have an operation. That is not acceptable to my community. I give a commitment to my community that I will do everything that I can to make sure that the state government stands up to and meets its responsibilities to the patients who need proper and timely treatment at the Townsville Hospital.