Feds refuse to stop cuts to hospitals

AN investigation into how costs can be broadly cut from Latrobe Regional Hospital’s already lean budget is now underway following the Federal Government’s steadfast refusal last week to reconsider its grab from the hospital’s bottom line.

LRH chief executive Peter Craighead attended a meeting,with other hospital heads, last Wednesday aimed at imploring Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to reverse, or at least delay, widespread cuts to hospital budgets it has imposed, midway through the financial year, as a result of revised population forecasts.

LRH director corporate services Catherine Greaves said the meeting was unsuccessful and the cuts, which were “100 per cent” from the Federal Government despite attempts from some quarters to shift the blame to the State Government, had forced an urgent revision of the hospital’s planning to accommodate inevitable reductions to its business.

“At the moment we are examining a whole lot of cost-saving measures… we are trying to implement a 12-month cost reduction program over six months and for those health services which aim for a ‘break-even’ result, which most do, there is no ability to absorb any unfunded activity this year,” Ms Greaves said.

When asked whether LRH faced a similar scenario to Central Gippsland Health Service which recently forecast 200 patients would miss out on elective surgery between January and June 2013 with four beds closed over the same period, Ms Greaves said the local impact would be “possibly greater than in Sale”.

“Suffice to say we have to consider those sorts of measures and a reduction to (elective) surgeries over the summer period…we are in that investigation mode now.

“Another issue dealt with at the meeting (with Ms Plibersek) was how this sort of thing affects morale and staffing at hospitals and how do we retain a skilled, clinical workforce with such an uncertain future,” she said.

Ms Greaves said state-wide, there had been a target to have waiting lists at 46,000 by the end of June 2013 but, in light of the funding cuts, there was an expectation this “could rise to as high as 65,000 now, meaning an initial 19,000 patients in Victoria won’t receive their elective surgery to the end of this financial year.”

She said a key factor for hospitals was the “ongoing” nature of the cuts.

LRH will contend with the loss of $2.2 million from its budget between now and June 2013 but the same amount would be cut from its budget for the remainder of the current three-year funding cycle “based on what is considered forward population data”, she said.

Past weeks have seen the validity of the Federal Government’s data criticised by LRH board chair Kellie O’Callaghan, State Health Minister David Davis, State Member for Morwell Russell Northe and Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.

Last week Mr Chester confirmed 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”.

He accused the Federal Government of a “mean and tricky” use of population figures to “justify the cuts”.

Meanwhile at LRH “we are looking at how to make ends meet… times are already tough and there is no fat in the system… so it is very, very challenging,” Ms Greaves said.