Deep, deep behind the back-on-track guff, the state government has hidden the details of its ongoing evisceration of public hospitals. You will find the figures, if you look hard enough, in Table 25.2 on page 108 of the second volume of Budget Paper Number Two. You can’t get much more hidden than that without disappearing altogether.
Overall, public hospitals will get a nominal increase of just 0.9 per cent next year, or $12.4 million. In the following year, 2017-18, the government is planning another cut, ripping $5.8 million out of hospital budgets.
A nominal increase of 0.9 per cent is, in real terms, a savage cut. Hospital price inflation ‒ that is, the cost of things we regularly buy, like wages, existing drugs and basic equipment, is running nationally at two or three per cent a year. This increase won’t even cover that. And price inflation is the least of the three main drivers of overall hospital costs.
Much bigger cost increases come from new drugs and new technologies and, even more, from rapidly escalating patient demand. The number of inpatients seen in our main hospital each year, weighted for cost and complexity, has been rising by between eight and ten per cent. That will not only now stop but will go into reverse, with more and more people in need of hospital care being turned away and waiting lists will again lengthen.
Those increases in patient numbers have been made possible in the face of previous budget cuts by doctors and nurses working harder and harder. The capacity to increase the output of present staff and other resources has come to an end. The system ‒ and the people ‒ cannot be squeezed any harder. The only option now available to hospitals is to concentrate even more on the most urgent and serious cases, and to turn the rest away.
When overall hospital funding is broken down, we see that emergency departments fare the worst. They are faced with a nominal decrease of 5.7 per cent ‒ and a much deeper cut in real terms. Our emergency department will be under even more stress, waiting times will blow out, and there will be more scandals like those we have seen over the past year.
Inpatient care, the core of all public hospital activity, will see a rise of 1.6 per cent. That translates to a cut in real terms of at least eight or nine per cent.
Statewide and mental health services are to get a nominal rise of just $10,000 ‒ again, yet another substantial cut in real terms. We already know that acute psychiatric beds are to be cut statewide from 42 to 30. This budget may mean even that is optimistic.
Community and aged care services are to be cut by $6.5 million over the next year, then by another $5 million in 2018-19. Here, too, services will suffer and the frail elderly will pay the price.
This budget represents a major slap in the face for the Health Minister, Michael Ferguson, by his factional opponents, Peter Gutwein and Will Hodgman. Ferguson, understandably, has not been a prominent spruiker of this budget.
Gutwein’s and Hodgman’s trumpeted surplus is a chimera. Even the budget papers admit, when you look closely, admit it does not exist. It has been created by sleight of hand, in a bogus transfer of money from the TT Line, and by the sheer and blatant bastardry of savaging doctors, nurses and patients.
• John Lawrence in Comments: Pete(#1) your observations are spot on as usual. I addressed some of these matters HERE .As you say the solutions are easy. Separating people from their prejudices and preconceptions is the problem.