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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 437

Senator WALTERS —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Health, refers to the Prime Minister's promise to buy 10,000 beds in private hospitals in an attempt to shorten waiting lists in the public hospitals. I ask: was that promise made after full consultation with the private hospitals? If so, what was the result of those consultations? Is it a fact that that particular promise is now another promise made by the Government that is being broken?

Senator RICHARDSON —The actual promise was to provide $100 million over four years for the purchase of beds in private hospitals for public patients. A number of private hospitals had indicated to the Government that they would be interested in pursuing that kind of arrangement.

Senator Walters —Which ones?

Senator RICHARDSON —I was asked that question at the estimates committee hearing the other night and I said then that I do not intend to answer that question. I could, but I do not intend to do so. What hospitals wish to indicate to governments in private ought to be kept private. Those hospitals need to understand that governments can be discreet in dealing with what are private concerns.

  What I have said since the election is that, while I would like to make sure that we retain the $100 million over four years, because the real need is to reduce waiting lists in public hospitals, as small as they are, if anyone is suffering on a waiting list it is the duty of governments to do something about it, and so we shall. I have said, though, that if we can be convinced that there are other ways to spend the money—different ways but nonetheless ways that will contribute to reducing those waiting lists—then we will certainly look at them. Every penny that the Government promised to reduce waiting lists will be spent.

  I am scheduling meetings with the private hospital groups in the first two weeks of June to discuss with them just how we might go about purchasing those beds. I will be very happy to report to the Senate in the next session about the progress of those arrangements.

Senator WALTERS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister has not answered my question. I asked what consultation had taken place and what the result of that consultation was. The Minister has just said that some private hospitals indicated their interest. Did the Minister get a promise of 10,000 bed days from the private hospitals before the promise was made?

Senator RICHARDSON —I cannot say that I am aware of all the details of the consultation. I am aware that people in the industry indicated an interest in pursuing the proposal.