Image for Health groups blame Government for hospital crisis

First published April 17

Tasmania’s top health organisations have issued an unprecedented and scathing joint statement highlighting the inadequacies of Tasmania’s the state’s public hospital system and condemning the State Government.

“On almost all measures,” the statement says, “Tasmania has the least adequate and worst performing public hospital system in Australia.

“Although the state government has the clear fiscal capacity to lift the standard of our hospitals at least to the national average level and beyond, it has chosen not to do so. We appeal to the government to reconsider its policy settings, which we daily observe to be causing immense distress and a significant avoidable loss of life.”

The statement is endorsed by the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Health and Community Services Union, the Royal Hobart Hospital Medical Staff Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and me.

The organisations highlight:

• A “critical shortage of beds” crippling medical and surgical care and endangering the health and lives of patients. They say an extra 200 beds would be needed to deliver a national standard of care.

• Bed block, which occurs when there are no beds on a specialist ward for emergency department patients who need them, is twice as bad as for the nation as a whole. Bed block alone is estimated to be costing at least 70 to 80 avoidable deaths a year.

• The Royal Hobart Hospital, which routinely operates at or above capacity, will be unable to cope with the coming winter flu season. Bed block will worsen and more lives will be put at risk.

• In the past few years, 42 acute mental health beds have been cut. The RHH now has only 32 acute psychiatric beds, seven fewer than the national average. Psychiatrists and mental health nurses point to unacceptable levels of violence, poor morale and difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff. For patients, the result can be lethal.

• Ambulance ramping is increasingly serious, particularly at the RHH. On occasion, this has taken out of the system an equal number of ambulances to the entire Hobart fleet.

• Serious shortages of paramedic staff lead to massive loads of overtime, often without a break, and potential danger to patients from exhausted staff who are inevitably operating at below their optimum.

The government has the means to rectify this situation, the organisations believe. They say there is no good reason why Tasmania should not have a public hospital system at least equal to those enjoyed by all other Australians.

Download Joint Statement ...


*Martyn Goddard is a Hobart-based policy analyst specialising in health issues. He is a former journalist and ABC documentary maker who became involved in health policy during the AIDS crisis in Sydney. Since then he has been a member of the main Commonwealth advisory bodies on AIDS and hepatitis and was the first consumer member of the committee that lists drugs on the PBS. He was also health policy officer for the Australian Consumers’ Association. For the past decade he has concentrated on examining and explaining Tasmania’s health issues.

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Alisha Munney, Comment 6: is a young lawyer who doesn’t understand why Tasmanian politicians can’t see the wood for the twigs, or the gigabits for the bytes. “Maybe, with all those gigs running through the undersea cable, based on our history we should chop them up into mountains of bytes and see if we can export them to Malaysia on ships,” she says. “That would create jobs on the wharves, and rejuvenate our shipping industry…unless the Malaysians provide all the ships, of course.”