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Roxon says be patient as patients wait longer -

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PETER CAVE: The Federal Government says it's confident that the extra money it's invested in health
is starting to turn things around.

That's despite a report out today showing the median waiting time for elective surgery in 2007/2008
was 34 days, two days longer than the year before.

The Opposition has expressed disappointment, accusing the Government of pouring money into a
"bottomless pit" while the Australian Medical Association says it's now clear the Commonwealth
should take over responsibility for funding public hospitals.

But the Health Minister says she's waiting for another report due at the end of the month before
deciding on the financial control of the nation's hospitals.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The key indicator for the health of the public hospital system used to be how many
people were on waiting lists. But waiting times are now deemed to be more useful.

The Commonwealth's Institute of Health and Welfare has just released the latest statistics.

The median waiting time for elective surgery in public hospitals was 34 days - two days longer than
the previous year and six days longer than in 2003/2004.

The new head of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Pesce, says the underlying tensions in
the public hospital systems are still there and need fixing.

ANDREW PESCE: The underlying trends are for increasing waits for elective surgery, even though the
Government announced a very specific amount of money to try and address this.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: That money hasn't really had any affect yet, has it?

Well, it wouldn't have had time to have effect in these figures and it probably has had some impact
subsequently.

But the point is that a temporary measure like that will only give you a temporary reprieve and the
underlying tensions in the system still mean that there's an increasing waiting list developing in
our public hospital system.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Dr Pesce is also the clinical director of women's health at Sydney's Westmead
Hospital.

He says today's figures are all the Government needs to make good its threat of taking over public
hospital funding.

ANDREW PESCE: I think those of us who work in the public hospital system are looking to see
something that breaks the ice that's sort of frozen our ability to address the mismatch between the
resourcing in the public hospital system and the clinical demands which are being placed on it.

So do you think the Government then has all the information it really needs in order for it to make
good on its pledge?

I think we're getting to that stage. I know, working in the public hospital system, that everyone
working in the public hospital system is really looking towards this to hope that there's going to
be a solution.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition's health spokesman Peter Dutton says the figures are disappointing.

PETER DUTTON: The Federal Government is pouring money into a bottomless pit, which is the state
government health departments and there are no better outcomes. Prime Minister needs to explain now
how it is he's going to live up to his election promise to fix these public hospitals because he's
only got 20 days to go.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government threatened to take over public hospitals unless they came up to
scratch. It's awaiting the final report from the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission at
the end of this month.

The Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the elective surgery waiting times figures prove her
government's argument.

NICOLA ROXON: It's no surprise that if you take money out of the public health system that you see
it showing up in these sorts of statistics. But we do need to remember that there is a lag time and
this relates to the period covered by the Howard government's last budget.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So do you maintain that the extra money that you put in hasn't really started to
have any effect yet?

NICOLA ROXON: No, we think that there are very clear benefits that are already showing, that are
not indicated in this report, which looks at a financial year 2007/2008. But there are more than
40,000 people, for example, across the country who have had their elective surgery done who would
not have had it done in the last year if it hadn't been for the investment of the Rudd Government.

We know that various things are improving and we know that our investments are starting to make a
difference in a way that hospitals can be run and that patients are being treated, but we don't
pretend that everything can be fixed immediately.

If you have a decade of neglecting the public health system, it will take time for our investments
to start showing returns.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Australian Medical Association says the figures show that you now, the
Commonwealth that is, should take over public hospital funding; that there are underlying tensions
still in the system, that they're pushing out waiting times and that crunch time has come for you.

NICOLA ROXON: Well look, everybody's getting very excited about this.

But we made clear before the election and we have made clear probably every second day since that
we will get the report from the Health Reform Commission at the end of this month.

We will consider the recommendations that they make, we will look at the data that's available
about how our health system is operating and then we will make a decision about the financial
control of our hospitals.

But in the meantime, we are not going to let things stand still. We're going to keep investing in
our hospitals, we're going to keep working with the states and territories and keep ensuring that
patients get even better outcomes. That's the job of government and we intend to keep doing that.

PETER CAVE: The Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon speaking to Alexandra Kirk.