Hospital funding stoush

LATROBE Regional Hospital’s long-standing bid for a multi-million dollar expansion has been used as a political football between the state and federal governments in recent weeks amid accusations of “blame shifting” and “game playing”.

State Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Wade Noonan told The Express recently an increase in ambulance ramping hours at LRH meant local ambulances were “increasingly being used as pop-up emergency departments” and a long-serving Gippsland paramedic said the problem was partly due to the inadequate capacity and size of the hospital’s emergency department.

In response Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester accused Mr Noonan of “scoring cheap political points” and suggested he “focus on supporting efforts to upgrade LRH” instead.

Mr Chester said LRH had been “unsuccessful in its applications to attract $65 million in Federal Labor Government funding to help build a new emergency department, provide additional endoscopy facilities and more beds to acute care”.

“State Labor MPs need to start assisting the LRH Board to obtain the funding by lobbying their Labor colleague and Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek,” he said.

“The minister hasn’t even bothered to respond to written requests for a meeting to discuss the project at a time of her convenience for the benefit of the LRH Board.”

Mr Chester said State Opposition Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney had also recently told State Parliament “we need investment in the next stage of the Latrobe Regional Hospital”.

“I now urge him to take the next step,” he said.

Mr Noonan, however, claimed Mr Chester was indulging in “the classic sort of blame shifting and game playing federal politicians go on with when they know clearly the State Government ultimately has responsibility for the planning and delivery of hospital infrastructure”.

“So this is a game of deception. I would have thought an MP in the Commonwealth jurisdiction would appreciate his own Coalition Government has recently been out talking up their infrastructure spending to hospitals such as the Bendigo hospital, to enable it to expand its capacity, so he would clearly understand this falls to his state Coalition colleagues to take responsibility for,” Mr Viney said.

Mr Noonan claimed the last three “major investments in hospitals in regional Victoria have all been funded by the state government” so “I think Gippsland residents have every right to ask what level of advocacy has Mr Chester embarked on to take this up with his state National Party colleagues?”

He referred to recent State Government announcements of multi-million funding allocations to hospitals in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, of between $46 million and $630 million,

“So the sum Mr Chester is talking about falls right within these sort of amounts…he should come clean and take his case to Spring Street,” Mr Noonan said.

Mr Viney concurred, saying “Mr Chester might do better by encouraging his colleagues to fund the second stage of LRH themselves, like they have done with other regional hospitals.”

LRH bid twice for money through the Federal Health and Hospitals fund, in 2010 and 2011.

That fund was established to “invest in major health infrastructure programs” including “expanding and upgrading hospitals”, but LRH was unsuccessful with each application.

That fund has subsequently closed and it is understood LRH is now in the process of seeking state funding support or potentially a joint state-federal commitment.