Page 2535 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005

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MR CORBELL: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank Ms MacDonald for the question. The government is, as members are probably familiar with from some of the debate earlier today, very aware of the issues that have been raised in this report, The state of our public hospitals.

I am very pleased to say that the government has demonstrated, and is continuing to demonstrate, its commitment to tackling priority health objectives in our system, such as access to elective surgery, access block in our public hospitals and access to emergency departments. To achieve this the government has already in the past financial year taken a range of measures to improve access in these areas. I would like to outline to members the range of initiatives that have already been undertaken.

The first, and it is worth highlighting, is increasing the number of intensive care beds. Members would be aware that intensive care beds are an extremely expensive item in our public hospital system, in fact, probably one of the most expensive areas in the hospital system. I am pleased to advise members, in case members do not realise it, that there has been an increase in the number of intensive care beds in our public hospitals by three, with three new beds up and running at the Canberra Hospital.

We have also established observation units in our emergency departments. There are 15 new observation units, 15 beds, eight at Calvary and seven at the Canberra Hospital. So we have 15 new beds in our emergency departments for the purposes of observation. Of course, what this is about is, wherever possible, trying to avoid the need for admission into our hospital wards, thereby freeing up those beds for people who need them.

One of the real challenges, of course, in our emergency department is that people often present with some symptoms that may take some time to resolve, some time to be fully determined, and rather than going into a process where that person needs to be admitted, perhaps just a few more hours of observation will resolve whether or not they do need to be admitted. That has been a problem in the past. That is why these new observation beds are in place at Calvary and the Canberra Hospital.

We are also increasing the number of medical beds. In 2004-05 we increased the number of medical beds by four at Calvary Hospital. We also established a rapid assessment team in our emergency departments and increased funding for orthopaedic and ophthalmology elective surgery, with $1 million to pay for 50 additional joint operations and 150 additional eye operations. We also, of course, established discharge lounges in our emergency departments to assist with access to acute hospital services.

How does this contrast with other policy approaches? It contrasts quite dramatically. The Liberal Party at the last election went in promising an additional $110 million into our health system. This is the same party that says we are spending too much on our health system. Mr Mulcahy, in his dissenting report to the estimates committee, says we are spending too much; our system is too expensive.

What did Mr Smyth promise at the last election—$110 million more! This only highlights, of course, the real conflict that exists between Mr Smyth and Mr Mulcahy at this stage. We know that we have Mr Mulcahy saying, “Don’t spend so much money.

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