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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (1 April) . . Page.. 1146 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

the waiting lists in a responsible way, particularly to ensure that people with the most urgent needs are treated in clinically appropriate times.

MR CORNWELL: I have a supplementary question. Minister, given that you have said that waiting lists are your number one priority, how do you intend to overcome the problems you have just outlined, given there is a $59 million black hole in the budget?

MR CORBELL: I think that is a request for me to announce government policy, and I am not going to do that.

Hospital waiting lists

MRS BURKE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Health Minister, Mr Corbell. Minister, the Canberra Times of 27 March reported claims by staff at the Calvary Hospital that continence and chronic back pain clinics had been cancelled. Why has the government cut Calvary Hospital's budget, resulting in the cancellation of clinics catering to the needs of the sick and elderly of northern Canberra?

MR CORBELL: I thank Mrs Burke for the question. The reality is that we have to ensure, as we do with every other part of the government, that our public hospital systems try to operate within their budgets. As I have already outlined, Calvary Hospital is facing a number of cost pressures, primarily because a range of funding sources have ceased, in particular in relation to elective surgery.

Elective surgery is a very costly element of any hospital's budget and it is very much supply driven. It is difficult to respond to it in an effective way because it is supply driven. Indeed, the more capacity you create for elective surgery, the more patients you often get. Doctors know that there are more people who can be treated, so they put more people onto the waiting list. This is one of the pressures we need to manage, Mr Speaker.

The government is working to ensure that both Calvary and Canberra Hospitals work within their budgets, but there should not be an expectation that funding for health is a bottomless budget which can continually be drawn upon. We need to ensure that our hospital system remains of the highest possible quality, whilst also working within the appropriate budget restraints and constraints within which all other government agencies have to work.

That is one of the key challenges the government is addressing. The government, through its reform of the health system, is seeking to ensure that no longer will we have different parts of the health system arguing against each other, but instead we will have them cooperating with one another to address the issues our community wants to see addressed. That includes responsible financial management. It must include that. That is the challenge for the health system, although it is not unique to the territory's health system. That is a challenge upon which I and the relevant officers of the department are working very hard.

MRS BURKE: Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question. Would the minister please tell us, then, what other clinics the ACT government is looking at closing down to try to fill the Treasurer's budgetary black hole?

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