Eleventh hour efforts to shelve cuts

LAST ditch talks aimed at averting multi-million dollar hospital funding cuts, set to cause a blow-out in Latrobe Regional Hospital’s surgery waiting lists, were staged late yesterday.

The Express understands Latrobe Regional Hospital chief executive Peter Craighead, along with other Victorian hospital heads, was meeting with Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek yesterday attempting to persuade her to shelve, or at least delay, savage cuts to their annual budget.

LRH, along with all Victorian hospitals, has spent past weeks digesting advice from the Federal Government that budget cuts would apply between now and the end of this financial year as a result of what the State Government has called “statistically invalid” population figures.

During a visit to LRH early this month State Health Minister David Davis said the Federal Government had “mixed two sequences of figures” in a way that was “unfair” and “at odds with… the ABS” to justify reducing the state health budget by about $107 million at a time when hospitals had already finalised their budgets for the year.

LRH board chair Kellie O’Callaghan agreed with the minister and said the Federal Government’s figures, used to enforce a $2.2 million revenue cut from the local hospital between now and June 2013, were wrong.

Claims of population declines were “not the case,” she said.

“We are getting an increased demand, with an ageing population and we know the health priorities for this region are significant because we have poor health outcomes”.

Ms O’Callaghan forecast an inevitable blow-out of the hospital’s elective surgery waiting lists as well as a revision of its core services and non-clinical areas of service delivery.

Though the issue was on the Council of Australian Governments agenda last Friday, the State Government issued a statement later to say “the Prime Minister has refused to reverse or even reconsider these devastating cuts to Victorian hospital services”.

The statement said the Federal Government’s November payment to Victorian hospitals was more than $15 million less that its November payment and this would “continue each month for the remainder of the financial year until $107 million is clawed back”.

It referred to the “absurd basis” of figures indicating the state population fell by 11,000 in 2011 despite the ABS saying it had grown by 75,400 people.

Other hospitals across Gippsland are also contending with the cuts, with Central Gippsland Health Service set to see about 200 patients miss out on elective surgery between January and June 2013 and four beds closed over the same period, according to Gippsland Times.

Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent said the “catastrophic cuts” would “rob hospitals” in his electorate of a total of $3.5 million, prompting a “serious dislocation of hospital planning”.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester warned the cuts were “retrospective and ongoing, meaning they will not only impact on current services but also the future health needs of the local community”.

While the State Government claimed it had “increased health funding by $1.3 billion since coming to office”, that was flatly denied by State Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney who said it had instead imposed $616 million in cuts.

Mr Viney accused the State Government of “misleading local health services” over the cuts and claimed correspondence from Ms Plibersek to Mr Davis showed “Victoria’s share of federal health funding” had grown every year and reached $3.6 billion in 2012-2013.

Ms O’Callaghan, however, backed claims by Mr Davis that the State Government had increased its funding to LRH and said the Federal Government was “all about numbers…and we are talking about patients and the local community”.

At the time of going to print, hospital managers were still meeting with Ms Plibersek.