Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr FERGUSON
The Auditor-General's report into the performance of Tasmania's hospital emergency departments is extremely confronting. Patient safety, in their words, is 'severely and routinely compromised' because people cannot access a hospital bed when they need one, and there has been a 60 per cent increase in events that cause harm. Tom Millen from the Launceston General Hospital this morning said that patients are dying because of bed block, which now happens 70 per cent of the time at the LGH and 93 per cent of the time at the Royal Hobart Hospital. It is clear this hospital tragedy is not just about chronic underfunding, it is a cluster of failed leadership. Tasmanians are less safe in emergency departments now than when you took over as Health minister in 2014. You have had five years to turn around what you described then as a broken system, but you have made it worse than when you started. How has it come to this?
Madam Speaker, I reject the assertion in the question. The Government has worked very hard to strengthen our health system. It is a bigger health system than when this Government was elected to office. It is a safer health system due to the service reforms that needed to be introduced on the basis of expert advice from clinicians. It is also, as I outlined yesterday -
Dr WOODRUFF - Point of order, Madam Speaker, that is a clear misleading of the House. That is not the Auditor-General's findings. It is not safer now. That is not the truth.
Madam SPEAKER - As you would appreciate, that is not a point of order. I ask the minister to answer the question as best he possibly can.
Dr Woodruff - Truthfully.
Mr FERGUSON - As I always do. Some of these statements thrown around the Chamber do need to be challenged. The Government has welcomed the Auditor-General's report. The recommendations put forward are very good and we ought to be looking at how we can implement them. That is exactly what the Government is doing. I also want to let the member know, having raised the LGH, the Government, again, makes this point: the Government has opened ward 4B that was closed by Labor and the Greens.
Ms O'Byrne - But you've not staffed beds in the hospital.
Mr FERGUSON - We have opened it. The previous minister -
Ms O'Byrne - You haven't staffed the beds -
Mr FERGUSON - That is why the record needs to be correct. The Government has opened the ward, which the Labor-Greens government closed and had the beds sent up to Coats Patons to be locked away so they could not be used. We have seen an increase in demand, which the Auditor-General acknowledges. The increase in demand has -
Dr Woodruff - He didn't say that's the only reason. That is one of three reasons.
Madam SPEAKER - Ms Woodruff, warning number one.
Mr FERGUSON - gone at a faster rate than any government's ability to open more beds. At the LGH we are opening 40 more beds, including eight this year in the children's ward for the adolescent mental health unit that stakeholders have been crying out for years.
We accept there are problems in the system. When I first started I declared it a broken system and the Government immediately used the commissioned report to make it clear we needed reform and we embarked upon that. We have seen demand increasing at a rate beyond which we have been able to build, particularly I mention the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment. I wish it had been finished on time. If it had been done on time, if it had not been left in chaos, it would have been done three years ago. That infrastructure is coming on line.
We are all for helping Tasmanians get the health access they deserve, and that includes the emergency department. The Greens want to make it about funding as well. Our $8.1 billion budget is all about investing for growth in our health services. Growth; not less, more. That includes new buildings, recruiting new staff and delivering new services.
Dr Woodruff - It is about chronic, dysfunctional, silo-mentality culture.
Mr FERGUSON - This is important as well, we have had some commentary and I will leave the House with this quote from the Examiner's editorial, which was very helpful -
Of course, the state Government must do more, but it is cheap and unproductive for Labor and the Greens to throw political stones without putting forward solutions and outlining how they would fund them.
Ms White - I have put forward solutions, I have written letters and you haven't gotten back to me. What more do you want me to do?
Mr FERGUSON - The Leader of the Opposition yesterday had a golden opportunity afforded her for unlimited time and the opportunity to outline an alternative budget. The Leader of the Opposition chose not to do that and spoke for 30 minutes and gave nothing. The editorial said -
It is time for bipartisan politics to solve the poignant issues and the Access Solutions meeting in June is the perfect chance for something meaningful to occur.
Ms White - How about you come back to me? I've written to the Premier multiple times.
Mr FERGUSON - If the member would stop interjecting, she would understand that she will be invited to the meeting. I have told you this before.
Ms White - I have asked multiple times to have a meeting and you have always rejected it.
Mr FERGUSON - You will be welcome to the meeting, but what will not be welcome is if you behave like this with more of the blame game, with which you will not help us to move toward solutions and your contribution will be a destructive one, not a constructive one. What Tasmanians expect from its parliamentarians is a willingness to work through these issues including the cultural issues in the health system. They expect us to resolve those and that is my commitment.