Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr FERGUSON
The hospital executive received a letter that we spoke much about yesterday from the emergency department's registrar doctors at the Royal Hobart Hospital, a warning of the direct patient injury and death because of worsening conditions and bed block. Today we know that southern paramedics have written to Ambulance Tasmania laying out the harsh facts of ramping and overcrowding at the Royal Hobart Hospital, describing it as an unmitigated crisis that is worsening not just the mental health of frontline paramedics, but the lives of patients.
Tasmania has the worse code 1 ambulance response times in the country and when patients finally get to the hospital they are ramped for hours before receiving any treatment. In terrible examples, in one instance a patient was transferred from the state's north with a known abdominal aortic aneurysm and was ramped at the Royal for hours until their vessel burst, requiring life-saving surgery. Another example is of a six-week-old baby in Sorell triaged with respiratory arrest who had to wait for an ambulance from Glenorchy. The lives of patients are being put at risk on your watch every day. The health system is in meltdown after serial underfunding in every budget during your time as the responsible minister, yet you continue to deny that truth. What more evidence do you need to force you to act on the registrars' plan and to prioritise Health spending in this upcoming budget?
Madam Speaker, I acknowledge the seriousness and the sense of duty of people who have been raising these concerns. I invite you, Dr Woodruff, to recognise that I answered this question yesterday in exactly the way you should expect us to answer it, which is that we are taking the suggestions on board. We are considering them closely. We have already moved in some respects, particularly with the registrars' request for more overnight cover. We are providing that. We have already told them that and I believe it has been warmly welcomed. A range of other solutions is being actively considered right now. That should assure you, Dr Woodruff, that we take these things seriously.
On behalf of the Government I reject the assertion that any of these concerns, ramping and bed block, have anything to do with the lack of funding as you have alleged. The Treasurer has tabled the documents in this House to demonstrate that we have put more money in than we budgeted during every year of this Government. That is our track record.
Dr Woodruff - That is right, but it is not in real terms. It is on paper.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Dr Woodruff.
Mr FERGUSON - A mature discussion of parliamentarians would recognise that the challenge we face with ramping stems back to bed block in the hospital and that we have filled our hospital to capacity.
Dr Woodruff - That is not what the registrars told us.
Mr FERGUSON - They are. We are now building more capacity. While the capacity is still not yet completed, or commissioned, the stakeholders are telling us that they want to work together toward better utilisation of the beds we have. We want to see more overnight cover. We want to see better usage of the escalation policy and over-capacity protocol, which was written by clinicians, but which the Government is mocked for by the Opposition. We want to work on solutions. We will always listen.
Dr Woodruff - Under your Government, people cannot get to the hospital on time. When they get there, they are at risk of dying in the ambulance waiting to get into emergency. That is the truth.
Madam SPEAKER - Dr Woodruff, order.
Mr FERGUSON - Dr Woodruff, I welcome your question. You are representing a concern we are taking seriously and we will actively look for -
Dr Woodruff - You have been saying this for five years.
Mr FERGUSON - I am saying it now. Yesterday, we announced additional support exactly as the registrars requested. I believe that is the right approach.
Dr Woodruff - Are you going to meet with the ambulance paramedics?
Madam SPEAKER - Order, please.
Mr FERGUSON - We confront a challenge being met by every state around Australia and has confronted our Tasmanian health system for many years. The difference today is that we have opened all of the areas we can. We have built more capacity. We are now in the final year of the new building with more than 250-bed capacity. Until it is commissioned, we need to be prepared to work together with health stakeholders without the usual mockery, without the usual politicking and without the blame game, which helps nobody. We are focused on solutions. I can also assure you, Dr Woodruff, that you will be afforded an opportunity to participate and I hope it is constructive.