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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5765

Ms RISHWORTH (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister update the House on the latest performances of our public hospitals in delivering more elective surgery and more doctors and nurses? Are there any impediments to this performance?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Kingston for her question. As a health professional herself she always takes a particular interest in these issues. There is a lot of very good news in the latest report that has been released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It is showing good news for those families and Australians, the very many millions of them, who rely on public hospitals for their treatment, whether it is elective surgery, turning up in emergency departments or for a range of outpatient services. We are proud of the fact that, when the Rudd government was elected, we made commitments which immediately boosted funding to our hospitals. We were repairing an enormous amount of damage that was left by the Leader of the Opposition in his time as the health minister.

The latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that hospitals have started to benefit as the funding starts to hit the front line. This report shows that there has been a very big increase in the amount of elective surgery performed. If you want to compare the 2008-09 year of this report with the last year of the former government, 2006-07, when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister, 38,000 additional elective surgery procedures have been undertaken. It surprises me that some of those opposite are murmuring because a large number of those 38,000 people would live in their electorates as they do across the entire country. It means they are not waiting as long as they used to for their surgery.

Have a listen to these figures. Public elective surgery increased by 3.1 per cent. This is over and above the previous average increases, which might account for population growth of 1.7 per cent—a very significant increase. Importantly, the number of people who are waiting longer than a year for their surgery, the very long wait patients, has dropped from 4.8 per cent in 2004-05 down to 2.9 per cent in 2008-09. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report notes that this was the first year of the Rudd government’s targeted $600 million election commitment to improve access to elective surgery. That increased the number of Australians who are obtaining their surgery on time.

Just as importantly, this report shows another significant jump, which I would have thought all in the House would welcome. This is in the number of doctors and nurses working in our public hospitals. There are now more doctors and nurses than ever before. In 2008-09, there were an additional 2,200 more doctors at work, an eight per cent increase from the previous year. We have also welcomed an additional 4,781 nurses, a 4½ per cent increase from the previous years. These new doctors and nurses are delivering more services to Australian families and to patients across the country.

The report also notes—and I think particularly on this side of the House people will be interested—that the Commonwealth’s share of hospital funding increased for the first time in the decade in 2007-08 as the Rudd government’s election commitments started to pay off in hospital services. Of course, this means that our reform plans are starting to deliver more on-time surgery, more doctors and nurses and more funding for the front line.

Mr Pyne —Where are they? Not in Adelaide.

Ms ROXON —Those opposite might actually start interjecting at this point because they know that this stands in stark contrast to the record of the Leader of the Opposition. He made it harder to access elective surgery. He cut $1 billion from our hospitals, never put a single cent into elective surgery, made it harder for Australians to access GPs by putting a cap on GP training places and left the country with a shortage of 6,000 nurses. Tony Abbott’s legacy was to make it harder for Australians to get access to public health services.

The SPEAKER —The minister will refer to members by their parliamentary titles.

Ms ROXON —The Leader of the Opposition’s legacy made it harder for Australians to get access to public health services. The most depressing part about this is that the Liberal Party have indicated that we are about to go for another around. They want to cut another billion dollars out of our health services—from primary care, from e-health and now also from diabetes. What today’s report makes clear is that, if you do invest strategically, you can turn around some of the statistics of our public hospitals, but if you cut money, which the Liberal Party now say they want to do if they are re-elected, we will just go back to the bad old days. That is a risk Australians cannot afford.