Carr forced to retreat on health cuts

Issue 

By Liam Mitchell

SYDNEY — The NSW government has been forced to abandon its plan to slash 1800 jobs, close a number of hospitals and cut the funding to others in order to increase the number of hospital beds in outlying suburbs.

Health minister Andrew Refshauge announced in late June that St Vincents and St George hospitals would be merged and the religious order that runs St Vincents would take over the merged hospital. Closure of two other hospitals and cuts to others were also announced. The money "saved" was earmarked for Sydney's west, as well as Illawarra and Hunter areas.

The government is trying to pit residents of the west against those in the east in an attempt to hide funding cuts to the health sector and other government services.

Local residents and the nurses' union organised rallies against the closure of St Vincents, and mass anger at the changes to St George Hospital forced the government to abandon its merger plans and guarantee to increase health funding.

However, on July 9, Premier Bob Carr announced that the $100 million promised to western hospitals would come from cuts to other government services, including the contracting out of up to $250 million worth of services.

The NSW health system is badly under-funded, particularly in outlying regions where the number of beds and money spent per head of population can be as little as half that in central Sydney.

Liverpool Hospital officials estimate they need an extra $52 million to meet current needs and establish new services. The government has promised $20 million. Nepean Hospital is facing a similar funding crisis.

Inner city hospitals, however, are also facing the prospect of closure. St Vincents has been closed to all but life-threatening ambulance cases for up to 15 days a month due to a lack of beds for emergency patients. The hospital was forced to close 50 beds in November 1995. It is now also fighting the closure of its neurosurgery department.

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