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Budget Health Cuts

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Tags: Health Crisis, Health

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, there is no doubt that the Government has made some good investments. It is very important that Tasmanians have high-quality facilities and it is really important that we plan for the future. There is no doubt there have been gaps in future planning for facilities from this Government in the past, so we welcome the commitments that have been made in that area. However, the first order priority is to keep the wheels running and what we continue to hear from nurses and paramedics is that they are in a desperate situation. Although it is true that the Government is continuing to increase its spend year-on-year on health, other factors are at a play which show that the Government is not keeping up with the need.

The need is coming from the increasing number of people who access health services every day. That is just an inexorable fact related to our increasing ageing population and our increasingly sicker population. This has been well forecast by epidemiologists, statisticians and demographers for a long time now. That was the reason that the Liberals, when they came to government in 2014, made the heroic promise that by 2025 Tasmania would have the best health in the country. Sadly, they dropped that promise and they dropped that commitment and they dropped the effort to put into what we would need to do to make that happen.

Since the current Premier and Minister for Health has taken over from previous minister, Michael Ferguson, there has not been a substantial change that has been needed in the investment in ambulance, paramedics particularly, and nurses and midwives. I accept that there have been some welcome additions in this Budget. However, given our ageing and sicker population, given the extra complexities that we are seeing in our people turning up to GPs because of a range of non-specific, hard-to-manage symptoms that come from the complexity of things that people are exposed to at the moment - including COVID-19 infection which aggravates a whole range of other underlying chronic diseases - but most importantly, very high rates of cancer, diabetes, and other chronic muscular-skeletal problems, Tasmanians really have a huge burden and a great need.

This Budget does, as every budget must, increase the overall spending on health but it does not invest in the people who are on the front line every day, still continuing to work in unendurable conditions of double shifts and overtime. When we have crews not being filled, shifts not being filled in our five ambulance stations around southern Tasmania on a Friday night, that is deeply concerning.

This Budget does not invest in the health cost increases that we know will be coming as a result of inflation. Our inflation at the moment is at Australian record highs that we have not seen for over 20 years. The ABS figures are very clear about this: the quarterly increase went from 3.5 per cent at the end of last year and the recent quarter is at 5.1 per cent; 5.1 per cent inflation eats up all the increase in the Budget, and more.

The total operating services budget that is allocated this year, relative to last year, has been an increase of 4.7 per cent. Inflation is running now at 5.1 per cent. It is predicted to increase, but that also does not account for the fact that the cost of health services is higher than the cost of inflation for Tasmanians. Some work that was done by the Australia Institute makes it very clear that for Tasmanians in Hobart, their out-of-pocket health costs have increased by 27 per cent, compared to the 12 per cent increase in the cost of all prices and all goods. That is unsupportable. That is a function not of this Government, but that is the context in which a budget has been delivered that is inadequate. It is not supporting the nurses, midwives, paramedics and all hospital and health staff who are working on the frontline every day.

It is not enough to dig them out of the trench they are in at the moment, working under incredible pressure without any sense that anything is going to change. People are burning out. People are leaving Tasmania and going to the mainland for a workplace that is showing they are intending to do something about the unenduring suffering they have to put up with every single day they go into work. They turn up day after day and are asked on a Friday to yet again fill again a shift, when they are empty shifts. Volunteer paramedics are not there to fill shifts on Friday and Saturday nights because of the stress of having to sit ramping all night, knowing that you are not able to do your job because there is nobody else to take your place and no other ambulances to go into the regions.

It is not good enough. We will deliver our alternative budget and show how it can be done better.