Health | February 22, 2018

Federal Health Funding

Victorian Parliament - 22 February 2018 - Ms KEALY — What a stunning political stunt we have got going on today: all talk about the federal government rather than focusing on the Andrews Labor government at a state level cutting funding and ignoring the health services right across the state. How disappointing it would be for the minister, who has not had the numbers of support in the chamber for the entire debate. This is the Minister for Health who is obviously raising such an important issue that, rather than getting some legislation in here, rather than getting enough of a business program together that we actually have enough content to discuss important legislation for the state of Victoria —

An honourable member — Bailing it.

Ms KEALY — They are now bailing it and going back to talking about federal matters rather than worrying about running the state. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a state government that was focused on actually running the health system in Victoria? Wouldn’t it be fantastic? Everybody has disappeared again, and it is not really a surprise. I understand that, rather than running the state, the Andrews Labor government has a certain few issues going on. I think there was a bit of an altercation — a physical altercation — between the Minister for Sport and an upper house member. I think that is clearly what has been going on. They are running a tote at the moment —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — The member for Lowan will resume her seat. There is a point of order from the member for Albert Park. The minister, on the point of order.

Mr Foley — On a point of order —

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — Order! I need to hear the point of order from the minister in silence, thank you.

Mr Foley — My point of order goes to relevance, Acting Speaker, and I ask that you bring the honourable member back to the point in debate. She has strayed so far from the debating framework that her contribution should be ruled out of order if she continues down that path, and I would urge you, if she does not take in good faith the point of order, to ask her to return to the subject of debate forthwith.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — I thank the minister. Does the member for Lowan wish to speak on the point of order?

Ms KEALY — No, I will continue.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — In a moment. I will just rule on the point of order. The member for Lowan is the lead speaker for the opposition in relation to this matter, and there is a degree of latitude in relation to the matters that can be covered. I would ask the member to work for the good of the house in terms of speaking broadly to the matter at hand that is the subject of the motion, bearing in mind that there is some latitude for the leader speaker in relation to the context of the motion. The member for Lowan to continue.

Ms KEALY — Thank you very much, Acting Speaker. Obviously in relation to workplace health and safety we do need to make sure there is no violence in the workplace, and this is something that was spoken about by the Minister for Health. Again, I would like to go back to the motion as put in terms of the federal government’s funding of health and also how important it is that we have a state government that provides sufficient funding to health care.

Health care is much more about the health outcomes for our community. People deserve to know that when they are not feeling well they have somewhere they can go to where they are cared for to ensure that they are made well as soon as possible. In addition we should have good preventative health measures to make sure we keep people out of our hospital system and fit and healthy in the community. We want them to be able to turn up to work. We want them to be able to care for their families. We want them to be the best Victorians they possibly can be. That is why, certainly on our side of the chamber, we will always support and fight for our fair share of funding. It will not matter if it is about federal funding, it does not matter if it is about state funding — we will always fight for our fair share.

This is something that I look at at a state level on an ongoing basis. It is eternally frustrating to me that Victoria’s country population — the rural and regional Victorian population — is 25 per cent of the state’s population, and yet a year ago in the state budget we received less than 3 per cent of the infrastructure funding for this state. This is disgraceful. When you are talking about our fair share of funding for anywhere, this is something that the government needs to take a little bit of notice of, rather than just throwing stones and blaming someone else for their financial problems and their mismanagement of money — which happens in every single Labor government in every single state they are in, or at a federal level whenever they are in.

This is the problem we have: Labor always mismanages money. We end up with a worse health system because of it. We have the worst record when it comes to infrastructure, with cost blowouts everywhere, and this is what we are seeing yet again, under the Andrews Labor government ruling Victoria. We can look at short‑changing hospitals in Victoria and what the Andrews Labor government has done. Last year we had skyrocketing electricity prices right across the state. The government knew about this, because of course it was its policy to close Hazelwood through a super tax which resulted in its closure, and electricity prices have since gone through the roof. This is not just hitting domestic users. It is not just hitting small businesses in the state of Victoria that are looking at cutting back their staff. It has hit every single public hospital in this state — and the government has not put in a cent of additional money to help hospitals pay for that. They did put in —

Mr Pesutto — They’ve cut funding.

Ms KEALY — Yes, they have cut funding, if nothing else. They are certainly not putting into each and every hospital the 6.8 per cent funding growth that they have purported needs to be there. Now if that was the case, we would have seen that every single hospital last year would have had a 6.8 per cent growth, but in fact in some areas of Victoria our hospitals received a paltry funding increase of 1.8 per cent from the Andrews Labor government. If the Andrews Labor government was serious, it would at least take into account CPI rates and it would take into account enterprise bargaining agreement increases for salary and wages. They are certainly not able to stand up here today and say that they are appropriately funding health services in Victoria. The Premier is simply not looking after our hospitals in the way that he would like you to believe he is.

I can say this quite strongly and proudly because I have looked through the figures. The hospital of which I was formerly the CEO, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital, is one of those hospitals that only had a 1.8 per cent increase in their state funding last year. I do not know whether many people on that side of the chamber have actually had a real job outside of working as a political hack or in the union system, but I certainly know how to deal with a budget and I understand that if you do not get enough funding from the state, then you have to look at what services you have to cut. It is people who miss out in all of this, and this is what has been forgotten in all of this political grandstanding over the federal government’s health funding and all of the problems around it. The Andrews Labor government are short‑changing our public hospitals.

I know from my experience at Edenhope hospital that they would have to be looking at their staffing numbers and they would have to be looking at reducing or closing some services. That is simply unacceptable for any CEO; for any nursing unit manager; for anybody who works in nursing administration; for the people looking after general services, ensuring there are fresh meals prepared for people; and for the people looking after linen services, making sure there are fresh sheets on the beds so that there is a beautiful, clean hospital prepared for their patients. That is the problem. That is what gets lost when you have any funding cuts, and that is what the Andrews Labor government is failing to see. They are contributing to some of the pressures that are being placed on these hospitals. While they continue to fail to acknowledge that and fail to see that, then we will continue to have hospitals that struggle every single day to provide the health services that their communities need, which has an enormous impact on the health outcomes of people in our local communities.

Edenhope hospital was not the only hospital which was significantly underfunded by the state government last year. It is not just our smaller hospitals; it is our bigger hospitals as well. The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital had an increase of just 2 per cent last year thanks to the Andrews Labor government; and the Royal Women’s Hospital had a 2.2 per cent increase. That does not cover the enterprise bargaining agreement increases, the CPI increases, and it certainly does not cover the astronomical increase in costs to hospitals due to the increase in electricity costs, which is Labor’s own doing. We are simply putting our health system under enormous pressure and that is due to the Andrews Labor government not providing an appropriate amount of funding for our hospitals. This is what they need to step up and do. This is where you guys can actually make a difference when you are configuring the budget, but you are not doing that.

Let us look at the other elements of what this government is doing. They turn a blind eye to so many elements of health care when it comes to Victoria. Who can forget the cuts to cancer beds, which was an absolute disgrace for the state of Victoria. Thirty‑two public beds have been cut from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, which was built as part of the 160‑bed Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. They were axed by the Andrews Labor government. We lost 32 beds for public patients to receive cancer treatment. Now this is not the total story because we had the 13th floor of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre not being fitted out, not being finalised, for Peter MacCallum private and so 42 cancer beds were lost. So in Victoria we have lost 74 beds that were built or should have been built for cancer treatment. They are not available.

I do not know anybody in the community who has not been touched by cancer. Many of the people in this place have been touched by cancer, and of course many people have family members, friends, loved ones and people in the community who have had cancer. The worst thing we could possibly do is have people not able to access the cancer treatment they need when they need it. This is of great concern to the state of Victoria when the priority of this government is actually scrapping those cancer beds rather than building public beds to care for cancer patients. This is entirely wrong and is the wrong direction for this government to be taking. To say that they are doing more for health than anybody else when they are scrapping beds for cancer treatment is an absolute disgrace and gross hypocrisy. It is completely wrong.

We know this government and the Minister for Health have a history of crying wolf when it comes to hospital funding. We can all remember when the minister was saying that cuts were going to result in the Sandringham Hospital emergency department no longer being a 24‑hour service and that the Williamstown Hospital emergency department could possibly close. This really concerns local people. It is just so wrong politically to try to threaten people who are looking to improve their health care by saying that these services will not be available.

The minister even took the huge step of saying, ‘We’re going to take this to the High Court’. Well, guess what? She never did. It is all words, it is all talk and it is all about trying to scare patients into thinking they are not going to be able to access the services they need when in fact it is going to happen anyway. There are good strategies around it and this political gesticulating is, quite frankly, just ridiculous. It is wrong to use patients and people who are concerned that they will not be able to get the health care they need when they need it, to put their emotions in play and then escalate it by saying, ‘We’re going to take it to the High Court’, when it never eventuates. It is just ridiculous. It does not make any sense at all.

We have also had some fantastic announcements made by the Liberals and The Nationals in the lead‑up to the next election, because there is a choice; there is a choice when it comes to what we want to see in Victorian health care into the future. Something we are very, very proud of that we have announced is that we want to make sure that people who are nearing the end stages of their life have the support they need. For me, working in a hospital system and having family members who have been through palliative care, I think the palliative care nurses are the most caring, generous and amazing people who work in the healthcare system. The support they provide during those last days — not just to the patient but to family members — is absolutely amazing, and I take my hat off to them.

With respect to this, we know that palliative care is significantly underfunded, which is why the coalition has made a commitment to inject $140 million to improve palliative care services in Victoria. This is something that will make a huge difference to the palliative care sector, whether it is the employees or whether it is the people who go through palliative care and their families and friends. This is something that will make a real difference to the lives of so many Victorians, and I am very, very proud to be part of a coalition that is willing to deliver on that.

We did see a paltry contribution, less than one‑quarter of the $140 million, committed by the Andrews Labor government. It just does not go far enough. Palliative care is so important that we need to get it right. We do not want a piecemeal attempt at trying to do a little bit when you just need to put a lot of money into it. It deserves it. It has been waiting for it for a long time. We need to make sure that it is a full program and that we expand community‑based services so that if people want to die at home rather than dying in a clinical environment, they can have that choice. They can choose to be in their favourite chair, in their bed or wherever it might be, and to have their familiar belongings and their loved ones around them in an environment that they know and are comfortable with. That is respecting Victorians from cradle to coffin. We need to look after them. I think it is very disappointing that the Premier has failed to acknowledge that this what Victorians want to see.

We have also made a fantastic announcement about free flu vaccinations for children under five years in Victoria. This is something that the New South Wales government has also committed to. Of course it would make it much easier for all families and make sure we get the herd immunity that we are looking for in the state of Victoria. Flu can be absolutely debilitating — and fatal — for people who have not got a good immune system or who are not fit and healthy, and of course kids under five are the ones that are most vulnerable. They also go into environments that are prone to having lots of bugs and diseases, whether they are at child care, kindergarten or just starting school. That is why we really do need to make sure that there is no barrier to any family wanting to immunise their young ones. We need to make sure that we have free vaccination. Again, I am very, very proud that the Liberal‑Nationals have committed to do that, should we be elected in November.

It is disappointing, with all the talk about vaccinations by the Andrews Labor government, that it will not match this commitment. You would think that if the government was serious about vaccination, it would certainly look at supporting people who can least afford the flu vaccination to have it. If we are looking at people who may not be able to afford flu vaccination — if we listen to the rhetoric — it would be the people that Labor say they stand up for, but they turn their eyes away when it comes to the crunch and to making proper contributions to our healthcare system, which is absolutely wrong.

Going back to the funding split, and that is what we are really concerned about, I would like to see from Labor an across‑the‑board 6.8 per cent for all of our hospitals across the state. I see so many hospitals that received, essentially, a funding cut in the last budget under Labor. They will have to ask questions about what services they cut or what staff they put off. This is not something we want to see, because our health system is made up of absolutely brilliant people who care about what they do. It does not matter whether they are cleaners, nurses, doctors or administrators; they do an absolutely brilliant job in caring for people. But we need to make sure that hospitals are getting all the funding they need from the Victorian state Labor government.

A huge issue for Victorian hospitals is around our workforce. On numerous occasions it has been raised that we have a shortage of doctors in Victoria, and it is worse further from the city, in country areas, such as the area I represent. It is so disappointing that this government has failed to acknowledge that it is even an issue, let alone to take any action. It has an enormous impact on our local people and their health outcomes. Last week I was told the story of somebody in a local hospital where there is no doctor currently; they were in hospital for 10 days because they could not get a doctor to come to the hospital to sign the discharge summary.

We have had nine doctors out of 15 go from one clinic in Horsham, which has resulted in people not being able to get a prescription when they need it. Of course what people do is present to the local emergency department, where presentations have gone up by something like 150 per cent. This is having an impact on our public health system, but it is an area that the government has failed to acknowledge or even attempt to address.

The Andrews Labor government is turning its eyes away. It is not just GPs. We have also got a critical shortage of allied health workers, whether it be social workers, psychologists or dentists. We have shortages right across the board, including with our nursing staff. But apparently the Andrews Labor government does not care where the next wave of staff will come from. It has no strategy for how we are going to deal with the workforce in the future; it has no idea how we are going to deal with the increasing number of older people in Victoria; it has no plan or strategy to deal with the population increase in Victoria; and it particularly has no plan for how to decentralise population in Victoria so that we have balanced population growth across the state.

If the Andrews Labor government does not take this seriously, we will face an enormous health crisis in this state. If we simply do not have enough people to work, if we do not have the people available to do the jobs to care for Victorians, then we will end up with a critical problem in terms of health outcomes into the future. I wish the government would look at this, but instead it goes down the track of trying to blame somebody else and of political grandstanding rather than getting to the table and negotiating a good agreement for Victoria. This is an agreement, mind you, that Western Australia and New South Wales have already signed up to, because they say that it is a good deal.

I would like to know from the Andrews Labor government why it is not a good deal, why it is putting Victorian funding at risk, why it continues to neglect its own contributions towards state hospitals and why it thinks it is okay that the state increases hospital funding by a mere 1.8 per cent in some instances, which does not cover CPI, which does not cover any enterprise bargaining agreement increases and which does not cover the skyrocketing electricity costs. If this government were serious about funding health care in Victoria, it would step up and put its money where its mouth is, and it would provide each and every hospital in this state with the funding they deserve to make sure Victorians have the health outcomes that are appropriate for our population.


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