Page 529 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 5 March 2008

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MS GALLAGHER: Mr Speaker, I stand by those comments. Any change, any reform in health, takes time to bring about that change. We can see that from the fact that it has taken us six years to replace the 114 beds that were taken out of the system by the previous government. You cannot just snap your fingers and completely deliver a new service overnight.

We have been putting in place over the past four to five years significant programs to deal with emergency department timeliness. The emergency departments at both hospitals are now seeing over 100,000 presentations a year. The biggest growth in those presentations has occurred in categories 3 and 4. We are doing excellently in categories 1, 2 and 5; improvements have been made. It is not moving at the speed at which I would like it to move, but it is moving in the right direction. We have extra staff coming on; extra doctors are coming on in the next few months, which I believe will improve our timeliness.

I do not want to stand here and make excuses for timeliness in the emergency departments, because it does need to improve. However, we also need to see it in the context of the overall health system—that is, that we have the lowest GP numbers in the country and we have the lowest bulk-billing rates in the country. It has followed on that our presentations, particularly for less urgent conditions, have increased at a much greater rate than we would have liked.

The capacity of the emergency departments to deal with that takes time to increase. That is why we are having the discussion now about the capital asset development plan. The emergency departments at both hospitals are full to capacity. There are no extra beds that can be put in there. The waiting areas are restrained by their location and their size. To increase our capacity to treat the growth we are seeing in presentations requires a significant rethink of the way our hospitals are currently operating. That is why the capital asset development plan is so important and why it should be supported by those opposite. Unfortunately, at the moment, that support is not forthcoming.

Back to the emergency departments—as I said earlier today, we are seeing improvements in categories 3 and 4 compared to last year. The implementation of the fast-track initiative has been getting a lot of good feedback, and the new medical assessment planning unit is seeing patients much faster and getting them through the emergency departments much faster than in the past. We are looking at further expansions of another model around the MAPU to improve that. Our categories 1, 2 and 5 are excellent. We need extra to work extra hard on categories 3 and 4, but we are seeing improvements.

I am not going to stand here and say that improvements will be delivered by 30 June or, indeed, by the end of December. It takes time. The strategies are working, but we have to see them in the context of our emergency departments working to capacity with no further growth available and also in the context of increasing numbers of presentations coming every year. The short answer is that while the growth continues and we cannot expand, we are going to struggle to improve considerably on the direction we are heading now.

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