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Friday, 3 April 1987
Page: 1822

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Is it a fact that there are still many beds closed at repatriation hospitals around Australia at this time? Is it true that, while some of the closures are due to reconstruction work, many are due to industrial disputations and a lack of sufficient nursing staff? Will the Minister advise the Senate of the steps he is taking to ensure that a maximum number of beds are made operational in all of the repatriation hospitals around Australia to take care of veterans, many of whom are entering critical phases of their lives?

Senator GIETZELT —I find the question from Senator Bjelke-Petersen very unusual, having regard to the fact that there is a critical shortage of beds in the Queensland hospital system. There must surely be some concern about that particular problem. It places tremendous pressure upon my department which is required by law to provide treatment and hospital beds for entitled veterans. On occasions this results in the hospital at Greenslopes, Queensland, admitting an unusually large number of community patients, thus creating difficulties for the hospital whose main purpose is to provide accommodation and treatment for entitled veterans.

The only problem I have about repatriation beneficiaries in the hospitals is the acute shortage of trained nurses. Of course, the Opposition parties, which do not believe in intervention in the economy at all, can accept part of the blame for giving insufficient attention over past years to training opportunities for women who want to enter the nursing service. There is no way that this Government can be blamed for that acute shortage of trained personnel. In the light of that difficulty, of course I have problems in our providing every hospital with sufficient trained staff so that our requirements are met. We have taken steps. For example, we went to the United Kingdom in the early part of 1986 to recruit, through the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, a number of English nurses to accommodate the problem. No problem can be traced back to the Department or to the Repatriation Commission in these areas. We are grappling with a difficult problem, that of not having sufficient trained staff. We have other resources-beds and medicos-but we are not always able to provide sufficient trained staff to meet the need.