Ms WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr FERGUSON
As we have just heard, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry has withdrawn their accreditation status from the Royal Hobart Hospital. This means this afternoon two to three registrars who are currently working there will be leaving to take posts in the community mental health centres in southern Tasmania. You implied that this was news to you on a Monday but in fact the Royal Australian College has been in negotiations with the THS for at least six months trying to find a resolution. Clearly it has failed. The college has not provided reasons for why they are withdrawing their accreditation status, but I have heard from numbers of the public and private PENs and psychiatrists that it is principally due to intolerable pressure on registrars.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, I will pull the member up. This is not a time for a contribution. I ask the member to get to her question.
Ms WOODRUFF - Thank you, Madam Speaker. Minister, from what we understand it is principally due to intolerable pressure on the registrars working there. They are being forced to cut corners in their practice and pushed to discharge patients out into the private and community sector, hoping they will be picked up. This is a devastating blow to the functioning of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine and to the patients who need acute care, and it has happened on your watch. What will you do, given there is already an acute shortage of psychiatrists in Tasmania? Will you be trying to get locums from interstate? How will you manage the fact that this afternoon there will be two to three fewer registrars working at the DPM at the hospital?
Madam Speaker, this is being taken very seriously by the Government. We are committed to our patient community in Tasmania across the state, not just in the south, to ensure mentally unwell health consumers have access to health care services that are safe, appropriate and timely. I have already well and truly canvassed the dangers that were being posed by the notion of not having the mental health service -
Ms White - It has been nearly four years.
Mr FERGUSON - I know you are uncomfortable about this history of yours, but Labor's plan was dangerous and unsafe. We have found a way of continuing to care for patients on site at the Royal and we stand by that, because we are not prepared to entertain patient risk.
On the question Ms Woodruff has asked me, I do not accept her statement that registrars are being sent out into the community. I will double-check, but my advice is that they are continuing today to work exactly as they were yesterday - on the ward - so your hearsay is different from my advice, which I will nonetheless check.
I also further accept that the numbers of patients coming for mental health care has increased. I further accept that that has put pressure on the service itself and the ability of the hospital to provide access to acute care beds in a timely way. I accept that without question. That is, after all, why we are opening more beds.
I further accept that that puts pressure on the quality of the training program. Unlike the claims by the Leader of the Opposition, who wants to run crisis arguments, I simply point out to members of this House and the community generally that this is not about the service, this is about the training program for future specialist doctors. So we are clear, it is about the training program for future specialist doctors, who are registrars.
The Government continues to fund not one dollar less for those staff. They are our employees. We are continuing to employ them and your hearsay, on my advice, is not accurate. I also add that the Government does not run away from this issue. I answered honestly when I first became aware of the training suspension. It was not six months ago; it was when I said it was.
Furthermore, you ought to be, and I am, focused on solutions. This House ought to be focused on solving these puzzles. That is what the Government is doing. We are not going to set about scaring people, which is the only card the Leader of the Opposition can ever play, because she is not offering to open more mental health beds. We are, and we are committed to the training program.
In closing, what can the Government do to continue to work closely with the college and solve some of these problems? The Government has instructed the THS to engage with the college so that we can come to a mutually-acceptable outcome here because the Government is committed not just to the training program for future graduates of mental health specialists, but first and foremost to our patients who we care for.