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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 6 Hansard (22 June) . . Page.. 2323..


Mr Wood (continuing):

Water and Sewerage Act-Water and Sewerage (Fees) Determination 2004 (No 1)-Disallowable Instrument DI2004-94 (without explanatory statement) (LR, 10 June 2004).

Public hospital system

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Mr Smyth proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The state of the public hospital system in the ACT.

MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (4.05): Mr Speaker, the discussion of the matter of public importance, the state of the public hospital system in the ACT, is something that I'm sure will be of interest to all members. And it's important because, unless it has escaped somebody's attention, the public hospital system in the ACT is in strife.

The most recent startling revelation, Mr Speaker, has been around the incidence of bypass. I note that the health minister uses the word "bypass". In other places they use the phrase "code red". Bypass or code red occurs when a hospital is no longer able to accept new patients into its emergency department, and ambulances and patients are diverted to different hospitals. The use of the word by the minister is important. "Code red"sounds dramatic; "bypass", I guess, sounds benign. The minister has suggested that bypass, that is, code red, is a normal, everyday thing. Well, it didn't use to be until he became the minister, and it's not acceptable to us to accept bypass as a normal, everyday thing, Mr Speaker.

Indeed, Mr Speaker, I'm sure when you were the minister for health, bypass was a rare occurrence, as opposed to the 37 bypasses in last seven months. Indeed, just last Friday, when Canberra Hospital was on bypass, code red, the minister passed it off as the hospital having a busy day. Well, hospitals have busy days every day; and to suggest that this so-called busy day was anything other than that, I think, is to ignore the problem at the root of the hospital system. This so-called busy day was actually then the 38th time one or other of Canberra's public hospitals was on bypass in the last seven months-38 times, Mr Speaker-essentially once a week.

Yet the minister suggests that not only is this normal but that it is better than the national average. Well, I'd be intrigued to see what the national average is and I'm amused that the minister is so accepting that we can do something that's better than national average but something that's unacceptable in the first place. Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, despite the minister's glib assurances, the fact that our hospitals are so frequently on bypass is an indication of deep problems, and it's short-sighted in the extreme for the minister to ignore these indications. Bypass is not normal, nor should it ever be considered so.

Mr Speaker, this is a new phenomenon-this degree of bypass and this regular occurrence of bypass-and it has only started since this minister got the portfolio. I've spoken to a couple of former health ministers. Mrs Carnell thought that, in her term as health minister, it was perhaps five or six times, in her three or so years, that the hospital had gone onto bypass. Indeed, as a member of the last ministry and checking with the


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