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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 832

Mr FISHER(12.15 a.m.) —I must again refer to this categorisation proposal because it is obviously a very serious situation, particularly in relation to the Victorian Bush Nursing Association. As I understand it, under the proposal benefits payable by the health insurance funds will, for most bush nursing hospitals, be $100 a day. There will be a Commonwealth subsidy of $20 a day. As there are only four bush nursing hospitals in Victoria with average daily bed costs below $100 it is obvious that 34 bush nursing hospitals will be in severe financial difficulty within a matter of months after the scheme is introduced unless patients are prepared to pay up to $55 a day. Of course we must remember that the gap is non-insurable.

If this is not the case let the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) tell us what is the situation at the end of this debate. I will be very pleased if this debate clears up the problem and, in fact, ensures that the system continues. But I think that we should reinforce to the Minister the argument relating to the efficiency of the system.

Mr Campbell —Now sit down.

Mr FISHER —I will sit down when I am ready. The very existence and efficiency of these bush nursing hospitals has for some 60 years saved successive governments incalculable sums of money when it is considered that the alternative to a bush nursing hospital would, in all probablility, be the provision by the State of a public hospital. In pursuing this point the average occupied bed costs of bush nursing and public hospitals should be mentioned.

Mr Cunningham —That is page 17. They are not even your own words.

Mr FISHER —It is a pity the honourable member did not mention it earlier. He was going to forget about it. I am glad I have flushed him out. In 1981-82 a bush nursing hospital bed cost $93.98 and a public hospital bed cost $183.19. This means that there is a variation between the cost in a public hospital and in a bush nursing hospital of 85.2 per cent. If we go over the page we will find--

Mr Chynoweth —We are on the page.

Mr FISHER —It is a pity that Government members did not come into this debate a lot earlier before honourable members on this side brought to their notice these very important facts. As the Victorian Bush Nursing Association stated:

It is not unreasonable to assume that, if bush nursing hospitals were to be taken over as public hospitals, services identical to those now provided by public hospitals would then be provided by bush nursing hospitals with corresponding cost increases in accordance with the following.

As members of the Government have now obtained this submission and are reading about the tremendous discrimination that will exist if this policy continues, they will see that in 1981-82 the cost to the public of bed days in bush nursing hospitals was in excess of $16m. The cost of bed days in public hospitals was $ 31m. This shows that by operating the bush nursing system there is a saving to the Australian community of some $14m a year.

I repeat with emphasis that the very existence of bush nursing hospitals has saved governments considerable sums of money over a long period. The honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham) has had a lot to say by interjection. All I can say is that I am glad he has finally acknowledged the importance of the bush nursing system, particularly in light of the fact that the first bush nursing hospital was established in Victoria in 1923 in Cowes in his electorate.