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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 876

Senator AULICH —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen statements by the Tasmanian Minister for Health which blame the Federal Government's categorisations of private hospitals for the appallingly substandard situation at Ward H of the Queen Victoria Hospital in Launceston? Is the Minister also aware that the Tasmanian Minister for Health appears to be just as ignorant about construction matters as health matters, given his statements that there would be no need for a fire escape to be installed in that hospital as patients and staff could take the lifts in the case of a fire?

Senator GRIMES —I have seen the reports in today's Tasmanian Press of Mr Cleary's remarks yesterday and they do not surprise me. I am waiting anxiously for the day when Mr Cleary blames the Federal Government for original sin in this country as he blames it for everything else. Of course we have a problem in Launceston, as we have in other parts of Australia, with people being unable to get their elderly relatives into nursing homes. In Launceston in particular we have the problem-again, it is shared by other parts of Australia-of acute hospital beds being used for long stay, geriatric type patients. For Mr Cleary to suggest that this situation has arisen because of the categorisation of private hospitals, and in particular the categorisation of St Luke's Hospital in Launceston, is nonsense and he knows it. This problem has existed in Launceston for many years and has been complained about by the Launceston General Hospital for at least five or six years.

The problem is not just that there is an insufficient number of nursing home beds. That is being corrected by the approval last year of funding for the Masonic Nursing Home in Launceston. The problem is an Australia-wide problem. We have more nursing home beds per capita in this country than is the case anywhere else in the world, we probably spend less per capita on domiciliary care than is spent anywhere else in the world, and too many people are in nursing homes when they should not be there and nursing homes are the most expensive form of accommodation for the aged. I believe that this is known to everyone in this chamber. What we need to do is to get the co-operation of the State governments, the Federal Government and the non-government organisations which run the nursing homes to ensure that their admission policies are such that only people who need nursing home care go into nursing homes, that people who improve in nursing homes are able to be discharged-at the moment it tends to be a one-way street-and that we all co-operate in changing our policy so that the policy is a more appropriate one for the needs of the aged in this country.

I found Mr Cleary's comment about the problems at Ward H extraordinary. I knew that he would blame the Federal Government, as he always does, but for a Minister for Health in this country to suggest that it is perfectly all right not to have fire escape provisions in a six-storey hospital because, in the case of a fire, people can get into a lift and go down demonstrates his ignorance. He must be blind. I think that every lift in this country has a sign on it stating: 'Do not use in case of fire'. I hope that Mr Cleary is the one who leads the charge to the lift when a fire starts in the Queen Victoria Hospital.