Page 1652 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008

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nonsense. The AMA and the emergency clinicians say 10 per cent is more like it, and they are quickly dealt with and sent on their way by any competent triage nurse using up, on average, only one per cent of resources.

The other worrying thing about the performance of our public emergency departments is the government’s lack of ambition to change the situation. We see that next year’s target for bed occupancy is only one per cent lower. This is aiming very low. The budget provides another 20 acute beds, but this is way below the 150 that the opposition believes are needed.

The government is planning to spend $90 million on what it terms a women’s and children’s hospital, but it is hard to see this as anything but a grandiloquent name—a nice newspaper headline for the present unit relocated in the grounds of the Canberra Hospital. We do need to ask about this. We see the word “collocated” written in the budget paper. How much of this will be just soaked up by the move and how much will represent any expansion of services? I will not hold my breath.

The budget shows that staffing in ACT Health is expected to rise from 4,327 to 4,418. Like the Australian Nursing Federation, the opposition finds it difficult to understand how the government aims to provide any expansion of services because of the current dearth of staff. AMF ACT secretary, Colleen Duff, said today:

When you look at the projected full-time equivalent which is the staffing, the increase is minuscule.

That is from the Canberra Times dated 8 May 2008, page 5.

It is interesting to see that the idea of nursing assistants has again surfaced. The positions were mentioned in ACT’s Health annual report, but the minister professed no knowledge of them in a recent answer to an opposition question on notice. That is really interesting. The left does not know what the right is doing. Something is suggested through the Workplace Relations Unit but the minister does not know about it.

As I have said again and again, the problems in the health system centre on systemic management failures, including an apparent inability by management to listen to nursing staff. Nurses are leaving the system, despite what the health minister says, because they are overstretched, unappreciated and unheeded. There is a whole poisonous workplace culture that must be overhauled if vast injections of public money are to achieve real improvements in performance. Money, in and of itself, as Dr Foskey has said, does not necessarily benefit the community. The $9 million upgrade of Calvary ICU is welcomed, but it has been promised for five years by this government.

I think that there are many things that we can look to in health. The minister herself is now on the public record as supporting the opposition’s position that this is not about bricks and mortar. The Chief Minister said, “It’s not about money. It’s not about beds. There are systemic issues within the system.”

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