THE HON CATHERINE KING MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BALLARAT
LABOR CANDIDATE FOR GILMORE
MONDAY, 14 MAY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Shoalhaven Hospital, hospital funding
FIONA PHILLIPS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR GILMORE: We’re here at Nowra, outside Shoalhaven Hospital. I’ve invited Catherine here to see first-hand and to hear first-hand from locals about the issues at Shoalhaven Hospital, including considerable bedblock that’s been happening here. I know as a local – I was born here, my children were born here, I know how important this hospital is for our locals. So really good to have that roundtable discussion and I’ll now hand over to Catherine.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Thanks Fiona. Fiona has organised this morning a roundtable off-site of the hospital with some of the staff here who wanted to raise personally with me some of their concerns about what’s been happening here at the hospital. I met with nursing staff in midwifery, I met with nursing staff from the emergency department, I met with some of the general surgeons here as well as general practitioners who are referring their patients here. I also met with some of the paramedics here who are serving this hospital. And they are ringing some very serious alarm bells about the lack of investment here at Shoalhaven Hospital and their concerns about it compromising the quality of patient care. I am so concerned about what I’ve heard today that I’ll be writing to the NSW Health Minister to raise those issues directly with him and Fiona will be doing the same.
What they are telling me is the presentation to the emergency department have been increasing to around 160 a day and they now believe they are not able to treat people within good clinical guidelines here within the emergency department, because of the wait times to get people into beds when they’re admitted patients. It’s clear the hospital is under substantial pressure and the staff are under pressure here as well. And of course that isn’t surprising when we’ve had Malcolm Turnbull cut $1.7 million out of this hospital from 2017 to 2020. The inadequate funding deal that the NSW Government signed with the Commonwealth has cut $1.7 million out of this hospital – and that’s 10 times that, $11.7 million, across this region in total.
That has a real impact – it has a real impact on the patients who are trying to access these services. It also has – as I’ve heard today – a significant impact on the staff at this hospital. People not able to get out patients appointments, but when they do get outpatient appointments, sitting on elective surgery waiting lists for long periods of time – whether it be for cataract surgery, or orthopaedic surgery or other general surgeries that they desperately need. That also has a significant impact on the capacity of this hospital to open beds, to be able to see acute patients to undertake those surgeries. Emergency department waiting times, elective surgery waiting times, and people waiting to get into outpatient care – those cuts are simply unsustainable.
That’s why I was so proud to hear Bill Shorten say last Thursday in his Budget Reply that a Labor Government will reinvest $2.8 billion into our public hospital system. Malcolm Turnbull thinks that the priority for this country is to give an $80 billion tax cut to some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, or in fact to give $10 a week to people. We know the most important priority for patients across this country is proper investments in public hospitals. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any specific commitments to this hospital here if you win Government?
KING: Certainly again the NSW Government hasn’t put any plans to us. I would welcome the NSW Government telling us what it’s plans are for Shoalhaven Hospital. Again I have heard directly from frontline staff today that they think they need more capacity in the emergency department but more importantly they need more beds to actually be able to put inpatients in so that they can actually manage the demand that’s increasing here at this hospital. They’ve put to me a number of issues. I’d welcome the NSW Government doing the same.
JOURNALIST: So have you reached out to any State Government representatives to actually have a meeting with them?
KING: I certainly based on what I’ve heard today, I will write to the state NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. I’m sure Fiona will be doing the same and raising that issue. It seems to me this is not a new issue – this has been raised in some newspapers, I think you had some elective surgeries more recently, you’ve had a number of clinical staff actually raising these issues. I now having heard them first hand am raising them publicly as well and I hope the NSW Government hears. I’m certainly happy to work with the NSW Government to resolve some of those issues should we win the next election.
JOURNALIST: WIN News revealed major bedblock issues here at Shoalhaven Hospital last month. The Health District admits that the hospital will have to improve capacity and has identified that in its master plan. Is Labor committed to improve capacity here?
KING: I’ve certainly heard today that the bedblocking – so the lack of capacity in inpatient wards – is one of the significant issues. I’d certainly welcome seeing that master plan from the hospital or the area health network and certainly I’d welcome hearing from the state Health Minister. If there are capital asks from the Commonwealth then should we be in Government that’s something we will look at. I’m certainly having a look at what we might do at Shoalhaven Hospital. This is my first meeting here with staff but it is absolutely clear you have a problem here at Shoalhaven Hospital and that staff are desperately trying to do the best they possibly can. It’s been identified as an issue, it needs to get fixed.
JOURNALIST: I think a lot of people would get the impression that the facility here has been outgrown … how about a new hospital?
KING: New hospitals are very expensive but they are also very important in local communities. I think what we need to see here is if a master plan exists to improve the capacity of the hospital that’s certainly something state and federal governments should be looking very seriously at. It’s unusual for me – I hold health forums across the country – it is very unusual at those health forums to have so many senior doctors and nurses speaking out. They have to be very careful about doing that, to speak to me, the opposition spokesperson for health, about their very serious concerns about the quality of care they are able to deliver at this hospital, given they demand they’ve got and given the pressures they’ve got. They’re sounding an alarm bell. It’s time someone listened to that alarm bell. They’ve said that they’ve raised that, some of them have raised it with state and federal members here. I think it’s disappointing we haven’t heard from Ann Sudmalis on this issue. I think we need to get this issue sorted fairly urgently.
JOURNALIST: Did they give you any idea how many extra beds they would require?
KING: There wasn’t an indication on extra beds. Certainly the problems are throughout the entire hospital. So its emergency departments being able to have enough bays to treat people. Paramedics were saying they believe there is capacity to have specialised paramedics to in fact be treating some of the people they’re transferring to hospital here, being able to have advanced care within people’s homes. We’ve also heard that lack of access to a CT scanner down at Ulladulla is also one of the pressure points. But then the most important is that you just don’t have enough in-patient beds here within the hospital system. They didn’t give a number but certainly lack of in-patient beds was raised with me as a significant issue.
JOURNALIST: Are there any other hospitals here on the coast that have been identified as issues?
KING: I haven’t had that raised with me today, certainly the focus has been on Shoalhaven Hospital.
JOURNALIST: Just on a slightly different topic, the union is concerned about the location of the ambulance station at Jervis Bay. They say the location hasn’t been properly thought out and it could be better positioned. Do you agree?
KING: Look that would really be a better for the State Government and the ambulance union to liaise with the state minister.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the hospital. Do staff have anything to say about how hard it is to get staff to come and work here, doctors and specialists and things like that?
KING: Certainly the staff raised one of the issues being workforce. But again with good planning and good resources those issues can be overcome. I think the issue from what they were saying, sounds to me, is it’s issue of getting the resources to be able to pay to have those staff actually here. And when you’ve had the Turnbull Government actually cut $11.7 million out of public hospitals, out of its share for this region, you can see why it’s difficult to pay and get those resources for that staff increase.
JOURNALIST: Another issue seems to be (inaudible)
KING: Again, when you’ve got substantial amounts of money being piped from our public hospital systems by the Turnbull Government it’s very difficult for people to then employ staff. It’s very difficult for them to employ full-time permanent staff, particularly when you’ve had to Commonwealth come in in the 2014 Budget , cutting billions of dollars out of the public hospital system. You’ve then had Malcolm Turnbull come and put a little bit more in and then wanting to claim some grand credit for that that’s he’s put a little bit more in than Tony Abbott. But that just shows how out-of-touch he is. If you don’t have the money you can’t employ the staff and that’s the bottom line here at this hospital.