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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3875

Dr JENKINS (SCULLIN, VICTORIA) - Has the Minister for Social Security seen a statement by the Liberal Party spokesman on health that upon the implementation of the Government's health insurance scheme, there will be an immediate shortage of 900 beds in Melboure alone? Does this mean that there will be an enormous outbreak of illness the day the scheme is introduced, or alternatively that there are many thousands of people who cannot receive adequate hospital accommodation at the moment under the present scheme?

Mr HAYDEN - I am not certain why the figure of 900 would have been chosen by the honourable member for Hotham. It may be that it is a nice round figure and not quite as outrageous as 1,000, but there is certainly no substance in his assertion. On the one hand I have had the assurance of the Minister for Health in Victoria, Mr Scanlan, that there are adequate beds for hospital needs in that State; everyone who requires hospital bed treatment receives it. This means that there cannot be any shortage of hospital beds after the changeover date. There may be - and we expect there will be - some change in the pattern of demand for hospital bed services. That is, given a choice that does not exist now because of a stringent means test, people will be able to elect to have public ward treatment from public hospital services. As a result of this we expect, I repeat, that there will be an increase in the demand for this kind of bed day service. On the other hand, given the assurance of the Minister for Health in Victoria that there are adequate beds in that State to meet all hospital requirements, this must mean that there will be a reduction in the demand for private or non-public hospital ward bed services. This includes private hospitals. Accordingly there will be a change in the patterns of demand for these services and we will take appropriate steps to see that adequate beds are available for those people seeking public ward type treatment.

We have proposals that we put to the private hospitals and which they can accept or reject; it is a matter of voluntarism on their part. We are quite sure that they will find these proposals attractive. I am sure the private hospitals will not want to persevere with empty beds and the attendant costs and losses which this would represent. I repeat that the figure of 900 beds to which the 'honourable member referred as the shortage is a nice round figure and does not sound so outrageous and unbelievable as 1,000 beds. But believe me it is equally outrageous and unbelievable. I do not think he would assert that there are people in the State of Victoria who are being deprived of hospital bed treatment at the present time, in conflict with the statement of the Victorian Health Minister to me; and on the other hand I do not believe he will assert that, when the new health scheme comes in, people will rush to hospitals to have hysterectomies, tonsillectomies and other services provided on the discounted for bulk service basis.

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