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HEALTH SERVICE DEVELOPMENT AND REFORM
Ministerial Statement and Paper
MRS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Minister for Health and Community Care): I ask for leave of the Assembly to make a ministerial statement on health service development and reform in the ACT.
MRS CARNELL: Since the advent of self-government six years ago, no administration has ever fully come to grips with the problems confronting Canberra's health system. That is not to say, however, that there has not been lots and lots of good intentions to reform ACT Health. Yet, successive governments have commissioned study after study, major review after major review, of Health since 1989. Each review has identified problems with financial planning and management, work practices and excessive operational costs. Sadly, though, after each review, the will to change has dissipated every time.
It is not my intention, Mr Speaker, to dwell on the record of previous administrations or previous Health Ministers in ACT governments; but I will point out that, as the Territory's fourth Health Minister, the challenges facing me, I think, are the greatest yet. The statistics across Health are unacceptable to this Government, to health professionals and, just as importantly, to patients and the community who use our health services. Waiting lists for elective surgery, of more than 4,500, are at an all-time high, and more than 120 of these patients are waiting in excess of clinically recommended times for urgent, even life-saving surgery. The ratio of public and private hospital beds per capita remains the lowest of any State or Territory, and our principal hospital remains nationally renowned as one of the most expensive in Australia. Average waiting times in accident and emergency have quadrupled since 1991, from one hour to, often, in excess of four hours, and no-one in this Assembly would, I am sure, accept waiting lists for dental care and dentures of up to two years as being anything like acceptable. It is little wonder that health has dominated headlines in Canberra and around Australia.
I will say this, Mr Speaker: Unless there are major changes to focus the way our health services are delivered within the next three years the opportunity for meaningful reform will be lost forever. There can be no going back, and the people of Canberra understand this too. They elected a government that made no secret of its commitment to improving health services and bringing down the costs. We told the truth because Canberrans told us the truth about having to pay more and more every year for a health service that ended up delivering less and less. In order to avoid repeating the failures of the past, however, the barriers to change must be identified and specifically addressed. This is likely to be painful and, at times, I am sure, unpopular. However, the cost of not doing so is very clear. Our above average costs in health must be borne by the taxpayer, which ultimately results in a reduction in the funds available to provide other services such as education.