Unions protest VIC hospital cuts

Nurses take action in Melbourne, November 2011. (Photo:www.vthc.org.au)

Cuts to the Victorian health budget are having a significant impact on Victorian hospitals.

More than 300 beds have been closed, elective surgeries have been delayed, and jobs are being lost as hospitals attempt to implement a funding cut of $107 million by June this year.

While large-scale redundancies are yet to be announced, many nurses who rely on casual work as their sole income have been impacted as hospitals scramble to save costs by cutting casual staff. The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) Victorian branch said that “redundancy by stealth” was taking place with many vacant positions being left unfilled, nurses who recently completed a graduate year not being offered ongoing positions, and many recently graduated nurses cannot find a position to start their careers.

Rural communities are feeling the impact of the cuts. Beds have been closed in rural hospitals and as a result people in these areas are being put at risk. The urgent care centre at Colac, which used to operate between 10pm and 7am, has been closed and patients requiring emergency treatment will now have to be travel 75km to the nearest major hospital in Geelong.

The Angliss hospital’s emergency department in Ferntree Gully is under threat of being closed from 9pm to 9am.

The Victorian community and hospital staff are suffering at the hands of a dispute between the federal Labor government and state Liberal government over funding.

Federal health funding to Victoria has been reduced by $475 million over the next four years based on new population data. Meanwhile the federal government is claiming that they have increased the Victorian allocation of federal funding by $900 million over the next four years as part of the Health Reform package.

The ANF has written to the state and federal Auditor Generals asking them to help resolve this dispute. The $107 million funding cut to be implemented by June this year comes in addition to the $616 million the state government has already cut from the health budget over the past two years.

Meanwhile, despite the severe budget cuts faced by public hospitals the state government has provided $4 million to private hospitals — under a scheme to enable public patients waiting for elective surgeries to be operated on in private hospitals.

The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre announced the closure of 16 beds on February 22, which will put significant pressure on the hospital to have earlier discharges, fewer admissions, and treat patients in their own homes.

The ANF are likening this round of funding cuts to the what was experienced under the state Liberal Kennett government in the late 1990s when 3000 nursing and midwifery jobs were lost and 400 beds closed across Victoria.

Today only the sickest patients are admitted and they are discharged as early as possible, as the trend in health care has been to treat patients in their own homes or in the community. Given this shift in health care delivery and the already existing climate of bed shortages where there is a constant push for more beds, any bed closures will be putting a huge amount of pressure on hospitals not to admit acutely unwell patients or to implement earlier discharges. Patients will be left to languish in emergency rooms or their own homes, treatments will be delayed and the sickest people in our communities will suffer.

The ANF is taking action with a community rally planned for 11am on Sunday, February 3 at Treasury Gardens.

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