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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 3377 ..

Hospital Waiting Lists

MR MOORE: On 26 November, Mr Stanhope asked me a question about a $3m offer to the Canberra Hospital to purchase elective surgery to reduce waiting lists. He asked what the impact on the waiting lists would be if the $3m was taken up, why the hospital had not taken up the offer, and whether the hospital's failure to take up the offer had anything to do with the shortage of nursing staff or the availability of intensive care beds.

My answer is as follows: On the basis of roughly $3,000 per cost weighted separation, $3m would buy about 1,000 separations. However, the impact on the waiting lists if the $3m was taken up would depend upon a combination of the availability of surgeons and the specific nature of the procedures carried out. Some procedures naturally take a much greater amount of theatre time - for example, cardiac bypass surgery takes an average of four hours compared to a general surgical case, which takes between one and 11/2 hours. Additional moneys would be targeted at those categories of patients who are the most urgent and have been waiting the longest within those groups.

As the Assembly is aware, waiting lists have shown a small but consistent downward trend over the last few months. All efforts are being made to ensure that this trend continues. However, the normal downturn in activity over the Christmas period is expected to have an impact.

Mr Berry: Especially the strike by nurses.

MR MOORE: Arrangements have been made to provide access to operating theatres for those surgeons who are not intending to take leave. There was initially a reaction to the VMO contract negotiations in the middle of this year which did impede activity. To a large degree, these problems have been overcome. The hospital has, over recent months, been quite open in its statements that recruitment difficulties continued in selected areas despite a very active recruitment campaign. Some bed closures have occurred as a result of the recent industrial dispute with the Australian Nursing Federation. The operating theatres have been able to maintain their throughput capacity despite experiencing some recruitment difficulties. The intensive care unit did experience staffing difficulties for a period of three to four months, which did have an impact on elective surgery. However, staffing is now at the budgeted level.

Mr Speaker, when I was giving that answer there was an interjection from Mr Berry on the nurses' industrial action and patient care. I have a copy of a media release which was released today, which says:

Rosemary O'Donnell, Director of Nursing, Women's and Children's Health -

in other words, a nurse herself -

said that staff on the wards coped well and patient care was maintained at appropriate levels.

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