Cuts begin to bite

POLITICAL debate over cuts to health funding, and the implications for local hospital waiting lists, intensified last week.

State Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney accused State Member for Morwell Russell Northe of “failing Latrobe Regional Hospital and its patients” and highlighted recent data showing waiting lists for urgent elective surgeries had risen steeply in the last quarter.

Mr Viney said the list had “blown out by 44 per cent” and State Health Department figures confirmed there were 26 patients on the urgent (category one) elective surgery waiting list in April to June 2012 compared with 18 in January to March 2012.

The data showed there were just eight patients on that list in October to December 2011, however that reflected a sharp drop from 24 patients in July to September 2011.

LRH chief executive Peter Craighead sought to clarify the figures used by Mr Viney by stating none of those patients referred to had waited longer than 30 days for treatment.

He said while the list was longer than in the previous quarter, the hospital had not violated any benchmarks given performance data also showed it had treated everyone in that category within 30 days.

Mr Viney told State Parliament last week “the Baillieu Government’s cuts to the health budget had started to bite at Latrobe Regional Hospital”.

“This year’s State Budget forecast cuts of $134.1 million to the Department of Health, in addition to the $482 million cut by the Baillieu Government in last year’s budget,” Mr Viney said.

“Most reasonable people could foresee that Mr Northe’s cuts of more than half a billion dollars would have an impact on Latrobe Regional Hospital.

“It is about time Mr Northe started representing the Valley in government instead of being Baillieu’s local apologist.”

State Health Minister David Davis, however, has attacked the Federal Government over using “bogus” population forecast figures “as justification for cutting $475 million from our hospitals”.

He said Federal Treasury had asserted the Victorian population “actually fell by 11,111 in 2011”, adding “the claim is bizarre, if not downright dishonest”.

Mr Davis said the latest budget update said there had been ” overstated population growth in previous years that necessitated a new ‘assessment of appropriate health funding for Australia’s population’.”

“Thus the assessment that Victorian hospitals must refund $40 million for last year – money that has already been spent on life saving treatment of sick Victorians,” the minister said.

He said the $40 million cut from last year followed “an additional $67 million cut in the current year” and he anticipated next year would see a cut of $100 million.

“That will be the equivalent of the closure of many hospital wards, thousands of elective surgery procedures or the closure of a medium-sized hospital.”