Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (1 September) . . Page.. 1716 ..
MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (10.15): Mr Speaker, I would like to thank members for their contributions. I would particularly like to acknowledge the comment that Mr Stanhope made about the public servants who appeared before the Estimates Committee with me. I must say I was very proud to appear with those people. They are professionals who operated in a particularly open way. I think it is a credit to them. I appreciate the fact that you have acknowledged that. I am sure they will appreciate that acknowledgment.
Mr Stanhope talked about a range of issues that I would like to take one at a time. He talked about a cyclical battle with waiting times. When we are successful at reducing waiting times, then more people say, "There has been a reduction in waiting times. Therefore, I will now put my hand up for something that I might not have been so keen about before". It is a problem we have identified. It is not something we do not deal with. We still have to deal with it.
A problem that has been identified, a particularly important problem as far as I am concerned, is that some people have been waiting particularly long times for elective surgery. We deal with emergency surgery. I will come to the bypass in a while. When people are on the elective waiting lists, we assess whether we are treating people with a need in a time that is clinically defined. We had been quite successful in doing that until the VMO dispute, when a number of problems were created. One of the problems we have identified is the ownership by VMOs of their waiting lists. We have a series of waiting lists. If one doctor is particularly popular with the GPs, that person's waiting lists can be very long, whereas somebody in the same specialty who is new to the town might have very short waiting lists. Therefore, somebody who goes to the new doctor can wind up having their surgery much earlier than somebody on a waiting list for a different specialist. I have talked about the possibility of pooling lists. It is something that the specialists resist very vigorously. However, I still wish to pursue pooling or some compromise that will achieve the same goal. I do not think we have to be bloody minded about it, but I think we do have to find a more equitable system. We are in the process of trying to identify the outcomes we want to achieve and how we might go about doing that.
Mr Stanhope talked about VMO waiting lists. The response of the Government to the Estimates Committee was quite clear. It is about priorities; it is about making sure that we set the direction and take people where we are going and that we make sure our focus is on goods and services delivered. That is where I want to go.
Mr Stanhope also mentioned the staffing levels of nurses. Most, not all, cases that have been identified as being in the sort of situation he mentions have involved intensive care nurses. We will employ more intensive care nurses if we can find them. They are in shortage nationwide and they are in shortage internationally. That is probably because intensive care nursing has been recognised as a speciality area for something like only a decade and a half. That is one of the reasons why the intensive care unit at the National Capital Private Hospital is managed under a joint arrangement with the Canberra Hospital. The aim was to ensure that that intensive care unit did not drag all our staff away from the Canberra Hospital and leave us in an even worse position. Some issues are still being negotiated.