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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 689

Senator REYNOLDS —I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister able to report on progress in regard to the monitoring of hospital standards throughout Australia? Is the Minister satisfied that the Australian Council on Hospital Standards, established in 1974, is maintaining an adequate review of hospital standards in regard to staffing, medical records, administration, patient safety and food quality? Can the Minister explain why Queensland is the only State failing to participate in this important program?

Senator GRIMES —The Australian Council on Hospital Standards comprises 21 people who are representative of most of the professional organisations associated with health care in this country, including all the colleges of medical practitioners , the Australian College of Health Service Administrators, the Hospitals Association, the Australian Medical Association and groups of that ilk. It is a professional body and it is an independent body whose role is to undertake the examination for accreditation purposes of Australian public and private hospitals.

This process involves an evaluation of an hospital's organisational structure, its provision of care and its comparison with contemporary established professional standards to determine whether the hospital meets sufficient of these standards to merit the Council's accreditation status. An independent study conducted by the University of New South Wales supported the view that accreditation improves the quality of care available at hospitals that undertake the accreditation process. The Council is playing an important role, therefore, in ensuring that higher standards of care and treatment are available to patients in Australian public and private hospitals. At this time there is certainly no mandatory provision that hospitals have to be accredited. However, since 1974 some 43 per cent of all hospital beds in Australia have been surveyed .

As Senator Reynolds has said, all States, with the exception of Queensland, have agreed to have their public hospitals surveyed. In the two and a half years since 1 January 1982, 55 public hospitals in New South Wales, 43 in Victoria and eight in South Australia have been granted accreditation status. The only Queensland public hospital accredited in that period is the Commonwealth Veterans' Affairs hospital. I think we can only speculate as to why the Queensland Government refuses to participate in an independently conducted process dedicated to the maintenance of high standards of hospital treatment and patient care. It would seem that, in the same way as Queensland is the only Parliament in Australia without a Public Accounts Committee, the Bjelke-Petersen Government rejects any independent scrutiny and accountability of its public hospital system. One can only assume that it is afraid that the standards of care and treatment provided are not up to the standards of care and treatment provided by hospitals throughout the rest of Australia. If so, I believe the Queensland Government should ensure the traditional Medicare grants available to the Queensland Government are used to raise these standards.

Senator Boswell —It is owed $62m.

Senator GRIMES —The honourable senator is absolutely innumerate if he repeats a statement such as that knowing that Queensland has done as well out of the agreement. Queensland is the only State having the level of funds provided by the Commonwealth to its public hospitals increased by the introduction of Medicare. Other States are receiving simply revenue compensation, but Queensland will receive a real funding increase of $50m in the first 17 months of Medicare to 30 June 1985. Over $23m of that real increase in funding has already been paid. There is little evidence that it has been spent on improving standards of services. I can only hope that it will be used for the purposes intended so that Queensland hospitals can then receive accreditation status.

Quite clearly, the Queensland Government does not want to be involved in an independent accreditation because Queensland hospitals have not been receiving the assistance they should have received since the introduction of Medicare. The questions should be put to the Premier of Queensland and the Minister for Health in Queensland, Mr Austin: Where is the missing $20m? Where has it been spent? If Queensland hospitals are of an adequate standard, why is the Queensland Government not willing to have its hospitals independently surveyed? Until those questions are answered the Queensland Government is the one which should be asked the questions. The Queensland Government is the one that stands under suspicion in this area.