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Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Tags: Health, Hospitals

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I could not get outside yesterday and stand with the people who were rallying against the closure of St Helen's and calling on the health minister to do something about it because we were in here all day with the vote of no confidence in the Premier. Part of our no confidence in the Premier is on the record for his failure to focus on Health. He has totally dropped his attention on the most important portfolio he is responsible for since he has become the flag waver for the AFL stadium.

The minister describes the closure of St Helens as 'disappointing'. Well let us call it for what it is: it is a calamity; it is dangerous; and frightening for the patients who are there. The psychiatrist and psychologist I have spoken to on the phone have both been in tears. They have to listen to sobbing frightened patients who are deeply concerned for their life on a daily basis. Madison Cutler, who spoke yesterday at the rally, talked very clearly about what she fears will happen to her. She has finally been able to get into therapy after being on a waiting list since October last year. It is therapy that cannot be obtained anywhere else in Tasmania. Two days after, Healthscope pulled up stumps.

We are not surprised that a private health provider would buy a hospital, run it down, fail to maintain it and cook the books to make it look as though it is not a viable financial investment. We are not surprised about that. We are surprised that the health minister, someone who has been in parliament for two decades, does not understand that that is how private businesses work. They are for profit. It is not surprising that they would decide it is not in their interest, especially as Healthscope has been taken over by the Canadian company Brookfield. They are working on a global level. Tasmania is just too far away - it is annoying. They've used the facility as long as they can be bothered and they are walking away.

So we are not surprised. The Premier needs to have a really good think about the quality of the advice he has been getting about St Helens. We are concerned that he is not getting proper advice about what is really going on there because from the people I have talked to - the GPs, the psychiatrists, the psychologists - it is pretty clear that Healthscope is telling a false story about the bed occupancy rates. They claim that 60 per cent of the 39 beds that are available are occupied. The only way that could possibly be true, according to staff there, is if they are including the beds they have left in disrepair and refuse to fix up and if they include the days on the weekend - two days out of seven when they do not admit patients. They do not bother opening the doors on Saturdays and Sundays to admit patients who are desperate for life-saving treatment because they would have to pay their staff weekend rates, so they probably include those two of seven days in their bed occupancy.

They also do not include the days where they close the whole hospital over the Christmas and New Year period because they would have to pay their staff high penalty rates. For about a month of the year you cannot even get those services even if you are lucky enough to have private health cover, but if you want to get in as a public patient, the number of hoops that this Government has put in place for people to jump through - desperate mothers - to get some support in the two beds of the seven beds are meant to be for public patients but the estimate that we have heard - and I would like the minister to put on the record if he knows otherwise - is that two to three per cent of the beds are occupied by public patients, so there is no support under this Liberal Government for mothers who are desperate for some treatment and care.

I want to give a shout-out to the staff who will be losing their jobs, but to put the context for the minister, it is not just the staff, the individuals who will be losing their jobs, it is the state of Tasmania that is losing the expertise of these registered nurses who specialise in lactation consulting, counselling, settling advice. They are advocates for mothers. They give them a space that is like wrapping the village community around those mothers when they need it. They are not replaceable. They are not just there. They are older women who are on the edge of retirement and there is no plan from the minister to replace them. He has three beds he is pushing into the paediatric unit for just 39 of the beds that are available at St Helens Private Hospital.

There are options. He can do something. We want to hear him talk about stepping in and negotiating to formally continue the services for everyone who is a patient there, for the 1000 patients who are on the psychology room books, the apparent 1000 patients. One of the psychiatrists, I understand, has 2000 patients on their books. In the long-term recovery therapy groups, there are thousands of people. These services are not replaceable. The Hobart Private Hospital cannot cook up any more space because they have a one year waiting list for TMS - one year for their one machine. There is nothing that the Premier and Health minister can do except enter into an arrangement to investigate buying the building and taking it into the State Service and a formal continuation of services, regardless of whether the building is sold or not, in a lease arrangement to make sure there is no gap in the services.