Healthy debate

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LOCAL politicians are at odds over budget cuts to the health department.

Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien has criticised the state government for a $1 billion reduction in the 2023-24 State Budget; however, Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing has remained steadfast that there has been no cut to health funding.

According to State Budget papers, page 208 of Budget Paper 3, titled ‘Output summary by departmental objectives’, the state government will cut a further $1 billion from total funding for the Department of Health, which Mr O’Brien says will be met with despair by many Gippslanders battling with the public health system.

Mr O’Brien said the Department of Health funding cut is a huge slap in the face for the 78,909 Victorians who remain on the public waitlist for elective surgery – 1746 of which are waiting locally for surgery at Latrobe Regional Hospital. Data for other local hospitals are not reported.

“According to the most recent data available from the Victorian Agency for Health Information (VAHI), more than 25 per cent of public patients are not receiving surgery within the recommended timeframe,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Labor’s mismanagement of our health system means patients aren’t getting the health services they need and deserve.

“Instead of investing in a solution, Labor is taking more money away and stretching our services even further with a $1 billion cut.”

The 2023-2024 State Budget figures also confirm that Labor’s $4 billion commitments for hospital upgrades promised before the 2022 election remain at less than eight per cent funded.

“This dramatic underfunding of hospital upgrades includes the new West Gippsland Hospital, which we have been campaigning on for years and which both sides committed to at the election,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Unfortunately, Labor has not gone close to confirming full funding for this desperately needed development.

“The Andrews Labor government is letting Victorians down by failing to deliver on the things that matter most.

“Labor must take action to ensure our health system is running smoothly and Victorians are receiving the care they need when they need it.”

The state government maintains there has been no cut to health funding.

While the state government is winding down time-limited funding to support things like COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and other crisis response-related activities, they say there has been no cut to health funding, emphasising it is investing in new hospitals, new services and the dedicated workforce to back it up.

“I was proud to secure a commitment to build a brand-new hospital and public sector aged care facility for West Gippsland,” Ms Shing said.

“This result was achieved after many years of advocacy, and like so many others, I’m really excited to get that work underway.”

West Gippsland Hospital is one of seven projects that were announced late last year, with the state government saying there is considerable work needed in planning and designing required, and this investment will enable the Victorian Health Building Authority to undertake the necessary planning and development activities to deliver the projects to the scope announced last year successfully.

“While Mr O’Brien is busy playing politics, we’re getting on and delivering record health funding; we’re doing what matters – delivering on all of our election commitments and ensuring that Victorians have the best quality healthcare and hospital infrastructure close to home,” Ms Shing said.

“Our Hospital Infrastructure Delivery Fund will help our hospitals plan and design their upgrades, expansions or complete rebuilds, as well as support them to acquire any additional land they need,” said Ms Shing.

“Since announcing the $1.5 billion COVID Catch Up Plan, we’ve invested significantly to boost the amount of surgery delivered, grow the surgical workforce, and improve the supply of surgical equipment, all of which is helping to bring down the waitlist in the last quarter alone, we delivered as much surgery as we did pre-pandemic.”

The state government announced the COVID Catch Up Plan in April last year to boost surgical activity right across Victoria, enabling a record 240,000 Victorians to receive planned surgery every year once it is fully implemented by June 2024 – 40,000 more procedures each year compared with pre-pandemic levels.

The state government said while the program is being implemented, the planned surgery waitlist has continued to decrease, falling from 81,781 to 78,909 in the most recent quarter.

In other health news, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton announced his resignation from his position on Friday with the Department of Health, to take up a new role outside of government.

Professor Sutton is set to take on a role at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, as Director of Health and Biosecurity.