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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 4198 ..

Canberra Hospital-recruitment

MR PRATT: My question is to the Minister for Health, Mr Corbell. The Canberra Times of 15 November 2003 reported that four beds were closed at Canberra Hospital's oncology unit on Friday, 14 November 2003 because of staff shortages at the hospital, and that another four were unavailable for one shift. According to the Canberra Times, Colleen Duff, the ACT secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, said that "nurses were unhappy about the failure to recruit staff and tell the community about the pressure on the hospital."She is also reported as saying that "Canberra Hospital was short between 20 and 25 nurses each shift"of that day, and that "Something has to give because it's getting dangerous."

Minister, why have you failed to recruit enough nurses to the hospital, leading to the closure of beds in the oncology unit?

MR CORBELL: Mr Speaker, the funding is there to provide those staff and the government is undertaking an extensive recruitment campaign. That has been ongoing since the change of government. In fact, it was an issue prior to the change of government. The reality is that there are work force shortages in a range of specialties. Anyone with even a slight understanding of the health sector would understand that.

The key issue is that the government is working to address these work force shortages but it is quite hard to fill the positions when the people are not there. That is the key challenge that we are working to overcome. The government has not cut funding, the government has not reduced the level of staffing available in those areas, but it is having difficulty recruiting people to fill the positions. In particular, the government has taken steps to increase the levels of employment of part-time staff and increase the role of part-time staff in planning, for example, in radiation oncology.

The government has also taken steps to improve the rates of pay available to radiation oncologists and radiation therapists. That has also been effective in improving our level of staffing. We now think we have competitive rates of pay for those key specialties. We now know that we have more flexible arrangements for utilising those staff in that part of the hospital. However, there is still more to be done. In fact, only about a week ago, a range of positions was further advertised nationally as part of an approach to attract people to come and work in Canberra.

The government is taking steps. We know there is an issue and we are working to address it, but we will not open beds if it is not safe to do so. That is obviously the cause of the complaint from Mr Pratt. We have to work at safe levels. If that means that beds are closed for a period of time then that occurs, because we do not staff beds at unsafe levels. At the same time, we are taking positive steps to address these particular work force shortages, shortages which are not unique to the ACT but which are being felt nationally and internationally.

MR PRATT: Minister, in that case, why have the recruitment campaigns that you have boasted about in this place, the steps that you said you have taken, failed to attract staff to the hospital?

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