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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 353

Mr PETER FISHER —I refer the Minister for Health to the massive Australia-wide growth in queues for public hospital beds and the fact that in my State of Victoria alone queues have more than trebled to 34,000 in the last three years under Medicare. Given the Prime Minister's promise that nine out of 10 Australians would have cheaper and better health care under Medicare, what is the Government's excuse for the 100,000 people-mainly low income earners-who are now on public hospital waiting lists?

Dr BLEWETT —There have always been queues in our public hospitals, because any public system needs to have booking lists in order to operate efficiently. What the Opposition needs to do is some serious thinking about the causes of waiting times in public hospitals. First, the Opposition will notice that many of the waiting times have been produced by shortages of nurses. In many public hospitals in this country there has been, very obviously, a shortage of nurses which has led to a closing of beds and to a limit on the use of theatres. Second, if those opposite did their homework, if they were really concerned with the health of the Australian people, they would look at where the particularly difficult waiting lists exist. They exist in certain specialities such as in orthopaedic surgery and eye surgery. One of the major reasons for the waiting lists in those areas, which we all regret, is in fact a major shortage of specialists. We need a greater number of a orthopaedic surgeons and more eye surgeons. If there had been any planning for health by the previous Government we would not face today some of the issues we face in those areas. In addition if members of the Opposition ever bothered to do any real work about health other than to repeat these kinds of catch-cries--

Mr Spender —It did not happen--

Madam SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for North Sydney.

Dr BLEWETT —They would see that in these areas of difficulty there has been a significant technological revolution in the last 10 years. For instance, 10 to 12 years ago a hip replacement was a relatively rare operation because of difficulties with the immuno-suppressant drugs. The technological changes at the end of the 1970s enabled those operations to be performed so that today the most popular, or perhaps the most common, operation on people over 65 is a hip replacement. But, of course, it takes over 10 years to train an orthopaedic surgeon and these surgeons are not being produced in the numbers to deal with this kind of revolution. The Opposition, instead of making these simple anti-Medicare cries, needs to produce a health policy which will look at the real sources of the problems in the public hospital system.