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Estimates Reply – Rockliff

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 20 June 2023

Tags: Health, COVID-19, Ambulance Ramping, Health Crisis, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Deputy Chair, I will start my submission by saying the minister, Mr Rockcliff, was in contempt of parliament. He did not provide his response to members of the committee on questions on notice until after the time that parliament had ordered him to, which was 5 p.m. yesterday.

I found it indicative of the whole process. We were trying to ask straight questions and being constantly delayed, not so much by Mr Rockcliff but by the other people at the table: the secretary, Ms Morgan Wicks, and the deputy secretary, Mr Webster. Both spent a lot of time delaying and trying to pretend that information did not exist, trying to make us feel - I will just speak for myself but I think that the Labor Party might have felt the same way, that maybe we were wrong, maybe we do not actually collect ambulance roster sheets, maybe it is not available, maybe we do not have the information about ramping.

I spent a long time with Mr Webster, and also Professor Lawler, insisting that information was available and we wanted it for a particular period of time. Eventually, after wasting a lot of the committee's time and sometimes multiple questions, we managed to get a question on notice. That is how much the Government, this Minister for Health, does not want Tasmanians to know what is really happening in the state's health system because it is appalling.

The questions we asked on ramping and on ambulance shifts being filled are truly terrible. What we got back finally, after the time that the minister was ordered to provide it, but here it is nonetheless, our question was relating to the 50th percentile, the 70th percentile and the 90th percentile wait times in both the years 2022-23 to date and 2021 22. The Government has only provided us with data from 2021-22. I have the original copy of the question I wrote to the committee, the question on notice, which was the same as the one I asked. The question I submitted shows, in my writing, that we asked for the information from both years. However, what the Premier has provided is an incorrect transcription of the question I asked.

I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that that was an oversight. However, it does mean that we are missing the information we asked for in the committee and we only have one of the years of data. In good faith, we have tabled a question on notice in parliament today seeking the information that we asked for and that he agreed to provide. We hope, given the error, the Premier will respond to that in good faith next week.

What we do know is that we had a tortuous exchange trying to get the ramping data out of the committee. I had to ask nine or 10 times to put a question on notice while Mr Webster claimed the information was available on the dashboard. It was not. We should not have to waste Estimates time to get this information. It is what Tasmanians rightfully expect and ought to be able to access. Other states report ramping information on a monthly or quarterly basis. What we found when we did get it is that there has been an enormous number of minutes ramped for long periods of time in 2021-22 across all hospitals, the Royal Hobart, Launceston General, Mersey and North West Regional.

We also asked questions in relation to the number of paramedic shifts that were not filled. We are deeply concerned. We hear very regularly from paramedics about the level of stress because of the long ramping. They are sitting for hours and hours with patients on the ramp, often with unsafe staffing ratios. They ought to only have one paramedic, one patient. We know there was that terrible incident where the woman died in pain and without dignity on the ramp and there were, we understand, two paramedics to five patients.

Paramedics are burnt-out. We know they are not coming to shifts. It is not because they are lazy; it is not because they do not care. It is because they have given it everything; their heart and soul, and they just cannot do another Friday or Saturday night, or they are sick with COVID 19 or there are actually not enough people employed.

We do know that for the five-month period we got the data, there were 109 shifts a week on average not filled across Tasmania. That is an appalling lack of timely access to emergency care that every Tasmanian has the right to. It is 872 hours a week where ambulances were not available to attend to an emergency in Tasmania. That is a shame.

Mr Rockliff has shown himself to be the Premier only and not the Minister for Health. He is a part-time health minister at best. His responses to the urgent situation at St Helens Private Hospital, which will close its doors for the thousands of patients who rely on life-saving mental health treatment, are desperately shameful. He has put so much money and so much of his staff's energy and our taxpayer funding into a stadium and all of the money that has gone into the stadium authority, all of the energy that has gone there over the last year. Yet we have thousands of people who this week will be without psychiatric care, without psychologists and the expertise of the staff. He tries to pretend that there are other places for them to go. We know that they are getting automated calls from the Hobart Private Clinic. They are not even getting to speak to someone to get on a waiting list because the waiting list there has ballooned. It is so enormous at Hobart Private Clinic because there is nowhere else to go.

How dare he pretend to people, how dare he say that there are places when there are not. It is the most hurtful thing for people to be gas lit like that because people know and they are contacting me in desperation. They know that there is nowhere else to go. There are not going to be 31 beds somewhere else in Tasmania when St Helens closes its doors this week and this minister knows that.

If he had been doing his job as the Health minister instead of trying to get a stadium funded that we do not need, we should never ever have given in to the AFL bullying Tasmania like that. It is a fortune that we do not have and if we did, we should definitely be spending it on health infrastructure.

I was also gobsmacked at the the minister and the Director of Public Health's complete lack of interest in the serious burden of disease from long COVID. It is abundantly clear from the medical evidence around the world that long COVID is having large implications on people's health across the community and also on the functioning of society. We only have to see how hard it is to get people to properly fill workplaces because people are sick. Here today in the Chamber, we have two members out of 25 who are away with COVID-19. We do not know how many other people in the Chamber might be asymptomatic or have minor symptoms and they are at work when they should not be.

This is leadership that the Premier is not showing. We are deeply concerned that the Department of Health does not get it. They are not planning for the impacts on the health system of long COVID. It is something we need to be ahead of the game on. We have the oldest and sickest population. We have to be concerned about paediatric diabetes risk -