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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6641

Mr BALDWIN (12:18 PM) —It was during the election campaign on 22 October 2007 that Kevin Rudd, the then Leader of the Opposition, said: ‘The Rudd government is committing to delivering a better health outcome for Australians through our health and hospital system. Key priorities for the government include fixing our hospital system.’ He promised to do so by mid-2009.

Next week marks the end of the winter sitting period and the halfway point for 2009, and I report to this House that the hospital system in my electorate of Paterson is far from being fixed. Forster Private Hospital, formerly known as Cape Hawke Community Private Hospital, is a first class hospital. After many years of lobbying, finally, in September 2007, the then New South Wales health minister said that the New South Wales government would enter into contracts for the provision of 20 public low-acuity beds at the hospital for the benefit of the 19,000 residents in the local community. It took until March this year for the contract to be signed; a contract for 6,000 bed days per annum.

I was horrified to find out last week that in the three months since signing the contract there have been only 50 bed days referred to the Forster Private Hospital. If this is projected through to the full 12-month period, it will amount to around 200 bed days, which is a long way short of its contracted 6,000 bed days. Bureaucratic red tape is at issue here. Local doctors, whom we trust with our lives, should be able to directly refer patients to the Forster hospital instead of patients being taken 34 kilometres to Taree hospital, admitted, assessed and then, if there is a bed shortage—and only if there is a bed shortage—transferred back to Forster. This is ludicrous. The red tape needs to be cut to allow doctors to effectively get on with their job.

Tomaree Community Hospital services a local population of around 23,000 people, and in the tourist season that number is more than doubled. Staff at the Tomaree Community Hospital and the broader community are calling for the government to equip their hospital with a combined dialysis and chemotherapy unit. Providing such services at the hospital would address the dire community need and put an end to the requirement of those in the Tomaree community battling ill health to travel the arduous 120-kilometre return trip to Newcastle for treatment.

Following the visit to the Tomaree Community Hospital, a suggestion came back that the hospital should be a model similar to the Parkes Hospital in Central New South Wales. Parkes Hospital services a population of around 10,000 people but it has a 26-bed medical surgical ward, a four-bed paediatric ward, a six- to eight-bed combined emergency and high-dependency unit, a six-bed obstetric unit, medical imaging facilities and operating theatres. Operations are performed mostly by visiting surgeons who visit the town and practise at the hospital once per week or fortnight. Local GPs carry out minor procedures and do minor emergency surgery.

The current services at Tomaree are extremely limited. They need not be if they fix our hospital system as promised. Tomaree Community Hospital could operate in a manner more similar to Parkes Hospital than it does at present. There is no doubt that the staff at both the Forster and the Tomaree hospitals are first-class professionals. But the facilities are either underutilised, as in the case of Forster, or underresourced and stretched beyond belief, as in the case of Tomaree. Last night I put out a message on my Facebook website, asking for public opinion. One of those responses came back from Yvonne Annette Arbuckle-Elliott, in the Great Lakes region. She hit the mark when she said:

I firmly believe that health, like education, should be a Federal issue. Bob, bring up the issue I mentioned about the 16 year old left for 4 days in agony with a broken jaw. I personally have my own issues, a Pensioner, can’t have a cancer cut off my eyelid with Medicare, or have a hip replacement before the next 2 years, or have my diseased jaw attended to, surely after a lifetime of paying taxes I can get a bed in a hospital.

All the while bureaucracy stands in the way of the quality of life of people like Yvonne. What of the promise made by the Prime Minister to fix the hospital system by mid-2009 or he would take over the hospital system? Has the Prime Minister abandoned that promise? Not one cent of the $14 billion cash splash was spent on the public hospital system. At the ALP campaign launch on 14 November 2007 Kevin Rudd said:

I have a long-term plan to fix our nation’s hospitals. I will be responsible for implementing my plan, and I state this with absolutely clarity; the buck will stop with me.

So, Prime Minister, my questions demand an answer. When will the buck stop with you? When will you stop the excuses? And when will you fix the ever-expanding hospital waiting lists in New South Wales? I have constituents who are in a lot of pain and who demand urgent answers, not more excuses and blaming things like the global financial crisis. We demand action not excuses.