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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (1 September) . . Page.. 1712 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

A whole raft of changes are occurring within the delivery of services. It is a testing time. In terms of the most desirable models available for the delivery of health care, the Labor Party has a commitment to the fostering and development of a broad-based community health care delivery system. I notice from the Minister's vision statement that he is inclined to move in that direction himself. We will watch that with great interest.

There are enormous pressures within the public health sector because of staffing levels. There has been a significant issue of dispute between the Australian Nursing Federation and the Government over the last few weeks. I am and have been critical of what I regard as the Minister's very hands-off approach to that dispute. I think the Australian Nursing Federation have been pushed to the brink. I believe that the quality of care has suffered as a result of a lack of nurses at the coalface. A significant number of the problems presented to me in calls to my office from constituents result from the closure of beds or the nonavailability of beds, which to a large extent, as I understand it, is a consequence of a lack of available staff.

As I mentioned, some of the cases are quite heart rending. We hear stories of people prepped for a major procedure and waiting in the corridor for their procedure and then being sent home. These are not one-off or once-a-month stories. Over the last couple of months, we have heard them on a large number of occasions. I have heard terrible stories of people taking time off work and travelling to Canberra from interstate to be with a family member expecting to undergo a procedure and finding that the procedure does not occur and the patient being told to come back a week or two weeks later. Such appalling disruption causes unnecessary pain. A number of times over the last three to six months - I do not know the exact number; perhaps the Minister can tell us - the Canberra Hospital has been in bypass mode. When I first heard of it, it caused me significant surprise and shock because it was something I did not know ever happened. It was a genuine shock to me to learn that. (Extension of time granted) I did not know we did this. It is not uncommon for the Canberra Hospital to go on bypass and for ambulances that are called to an emergency not to go to the Canberra Hospital but to go elsewhere. As I understand the procedure, sometimes they may have to go to Sydney.

Mr Moore: The person is always stabilised. It does not put anybody's health at risk. It is inconvenient and it is a problem, but it does not put people's health at risk.

MR STANHOPE: I will be interested to hear, because I do not fully understand how it works, Minister. Nevertheless, it shocked me to discover that our public hospital system at times basically closes down. We are pushed to the limit. We are pushed to bursting point and the system does not manage. I cannot quite come to grips with the fact that it is not uncommon for the Canberra Hospital simply to close down because there are no beds available. Somebody the subject of an emergency may be stabilised, as the Minister has just said, but it does not deny the fact that there are times when our hospital system simply cannot cope with demand. It really worries me that we in this city, in this Territory, are pushed to that limit. We are operating on the edge all the time, or at least we seem to have been over the last three to six months.

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