Health cuts kill patients
By Karl Miller
MELBOURNE — The Liberal government here has cut $190 million from hospitals in two years. To meet new budgets, Melbourne hospitals have recently announced closures totalling more than 200 beds and 100 jobs.
Dr Yean Lim, professor of cardiology at Box Hill hospital, has publicly raised concerns with the health minister, Marie Tehan. Recently two cardiac patients needing urgent surgery had to be transferred to another hospital; they died while awaiting surgery. The Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association has called for an immediate injection of extra funds.
Health unions have called a statewide campaign of industrial action. The Alfred and Monash hospital managements have each revealed that they will have to close around 80 beds and lose 50 staff.
These cuts were due to the Victorian government "unexpectedly" introducing limits to a bonus funding pool. Hospitals were expecting to draw on this pool if they treated more patients than expected. Hospital management claim that these new limits mean that $8 million has to be cut from the Alfred's budget.
Non-medical staff at the Alfred have imposed work bans, and nurses voted on November 25 to keep the 80 targeted beds open, promising a walk out if any are closed.
The government claims that, despite job and bed losses, 30,000 more people will be treated this year than last. This results from the productivity goals set for hospitals under case-mix funding and similar initiatives. In order to achieve higher productivity figures some hospitals are including healthy newborn babies on their patient lists. Some patients are being sent home early to make room for new patients, only to be readmitted later.
Since 1990 the average length of a hospital stay has dropped 35%, and 30% more patients have been treated for 36% less. The government's approach is exemplified by comments that Premier Jeff Kennett made to Radio 3AW: "You might say to me, 'All right, isn't life more important than anything else?' and you might say 'Yes', and I would simply say to you, there is no end to the amount of money that could be spent ..."