You are here

Health Services - Issues

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Tags: Launceston General Hospital, Health Crisis, Ambulance Ramping

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I thank Ms Dow and the Labor Party for bringing on this motion today. We are at a very desperate place in Tasmania with our health system. Hospitals everywhere particularly the Launceston General Hospital and the Royal Hobart Hospital for different reasons and by different measures are suffering in a real crisis. It is pretty sickening to have to suffer to listen through the minister's comments then. I really do not know where to start. I believe the minister spent a lot of time misrepresenting the truth about what has been happening and pretending a level of concern which is not demonstrated by his actions. I think staff are really over this minister thanking them. Thanking is not enough and indeed it can become offensive when it is not matched with action.

The first thing the minister did when he became the Minister for Health was a public media tour of the Royal Hobart Hospital emergency department. We heard that the ramp on Campbell St, the alternative ramping space, had been cleared and that patients in those ambulances had been moved so the ambulances could be removed and there was no evidence of any ramping pressure while the minister was there. The point is, he was asked to have a meeting with the Health and Community Services Union and he had not taken it up. He had not taken it up a month later when I spoke to Robbie Moore, from the Health and Community Services Union. I do not know, minister, have you met with them now?

Mr BARNETT - Mr Deputy Speaker, that is false and misleading. I met with Robbie Moore as swiftly as possible. I called HACSU on day one when I was in the job without getting a response. I am more than happy to meet the union at any time and anybody else.

Ms O'Byrne - Is he actually making a point of order, Mr Speaker, or is he just talking?

Mr SPEAKER - On a point of order. It is not a point of order, as I have said many times, there are forms of the House that members if they disagree can raise in order to satisfy their own mind.

Mr Barnett - The member asked me a question.

Dr WOODRUFF - If you would like to take it up with HACSU and finally meet with them, I am sure they would like to do that.

Mr Barnett - I met with them already.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is really good to hear because it was a month after you were in the job where you had not responded to them with a meeting, so there it is.

Mr Barnett - You are false and misleading. Correct the record.

Dr WOODRUFF - You take it up later. You know I had to suffer through 40 minutes of you giving false statements and we will have to agree to disagree on that.

Mr Barnett - You are false and misleading.

Mr SPEAKER - Order. I again remind people of the code of conduct, that anything that is said in this place should be of their view, accurate. Ministers have been accused of false and misleading statements but it is up to everybody, of course, to maintain a degree of decorum and honesty within the Chamber.

Mr Barnett - Correct.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Mr Speaker. Now that the minister has shown his response to the concerns that have been raised by the health sector, I am not surprised that he is feeling very defensive and so he should because ANMF and HACSU on behalf of staff at the hospitals are desperate at the lack of action from this Government and now from this Health minister and they are pretty tired of him trotting out feel-good comments about workers as though it will change the real-life impact of their experiences.

I will speak in the words of Emily Shepherd from the ANMF. When she was talking, it was a year ago now, after the death of a woman who died after waiting for eight hours on the ambulance ramp without getting the treatment in a timely fashion which the Coroner subsequently found could have saved her life. Emily Shepherd said:

It's incredibly concerning for staff to have a patient die after being ramped. Our members have been absolutely distraught for many years about the situation in the LGH Emergency Department and, indeed, across the state. (TBC)

If you know Emily, you know that that is her incredible understatement. The fact is, as Ms Dow said, staff are leaving, they are leaving in droves. The fact that the minister cannot tell us how many staff have left is frankly a shame on his head. It is a shame on the Liberals who have been in government for all this time and they cannot tell us the movements of staff, the movements in and out of the building. All they can do is make announcements about new staff who have come on board but it does not tell us the net number. Obviously people are leaving and they are leaving in droves. It is because they are broken by a system which does not support them and broken by a lack of resourcing year on year, which has not put in place any plan for recruiting new nurses, other health staff and paramedics, and especially supporting them so that they can stay in place with the clinical support and guidance they need and the safe staffing ratios that are required. The Government has refused to budge on safe staffing ratios ever since they have been here, nearly a decade now, so we have a situation which is intolerable for staff to work in.

We have had a Liberal Government that has completely walked away from safe respiratory masking in hospitals, as well as everywhere, but even in hospitals the support that is required to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace has not been there. They have dropped the ball on that completely. I am really concerned about the false narrative that the minister has picked up and he is amplifying it. It is his way of trying to say it is anybody else's problem except his, and he is pointing the finger at what he claims are four in 10 people who come to the emergency department who he says are non-necessary emergency department presentations.

I call that for what it is. It is not true that there is no relationship between the number of people who come to the emergency departments who do not require to be admitted to a bed. There is no relationship between that and the level of ramping that has occurred, and the failure for people to get admitted to a bed in the hospital when they need it.

Contrary to what the minister said, the latest research from The Medical Journal of Australia shows that three-quarters of people who are turning up to emergency departments are not turning up because they are lazy, or slack, or they could not be bothered going to a GP, or they are trying to get it cheaper. None of that is true. Three-quarters of people who turn up at the emergency department are required to be there to get radiology or pathology assessments. They are presenting because they have symptoms or diagnoses that are inappropriate for GP care. This is the evidence that has just been released by The Medical Journal of Australia.

I suggest that the minister read and internalise it and stop perpetuating the myth that somehow it is the fault of Tasmanians turning up to emergency departments when they ought not to be there, or the fault of GPs for not picking up the load in the primary care sector. Both of those things are untrue.

People who turn up to the emergency department who are not required to have a bed have no bearing on the number or the length of time on the ramp and they have no bearing on whether people get a bed on time. Instead, it means that the minister has to work harder to get nurse practitioners up in regional Tasmania to take the load, like the Cygnet Family Practice has done. You were there, minister. I know you were blowing the trumpet for the Cygnet Family Practice. Well, make it happen across the rest of the state. Make it easier and more possible for nurses to become nurse practitioners. Make those systems work. That is in your hands, you can do that.

You can also provide allied paramedic practitioner options, and remove the regulations that are still in place that mean paramedics cannot increase their scope of practice and also be working with nurse practitioners in urgent care, out-of-care settings ¬- so that the pathology and the diagnostics - and even the x-rays - can be done outside of an emergency department situation.

Speaking of making things dangerous by talking about this, let us talk about what your secretary released: a warning to Tasmanians to reconsider attending Launceston General Hospital or Royal Hobart Hospital if it is not an emergency because of the crisis in those emergency departments. If that is not putting fear in Tasmanians, I do not know what is.

You have the secretary of the department, instead of calling a Code Yellow - which is what is demanded by the situation in those hospitals - putting out a statement which effectively tells Tasmanians that if you are thinking of going to the emergency department, just self-assess. Decide for yourself whether you have a life-threatening condition. Decide yourself, without a medical professional there to help you, whether you should attend the emergency department. It is shameful, it is dangerous, and it is wrong. I cannot actually believe it. Is there no Code Yellow anymore? What is going on in the health department? What is the point of having a Code Yellow level, if the circumstances show it is required, but you do not put it in place? Maybe you should just get rid of it, if that is what you are doing. Be honest with Tasmanians about what is going on.

I want to leave some time for Ms O'Byrne to make some comments, but I do not have confidence, unfortunately, in the Government choosing an independent reviewer to undertake a proper assessment of what is going on in the LGH department. I would be concerned they would narrow the scope of an investigation.

We will of course support this motion, because everything has to be done. Any rock that can be turned over and any further information that can be found is a good thing. We have an ambulance ramping inquiry coming up and we will be looking at these things, but given the gravity of the situation at the LGH, we have to do everything we can to turn over every rock, and that is why we support this.

I thank Ms Dow for advocating for the Launceston community on this matter in particular. It is critical.