Govt serves up bad medicine for health service

FOUR hundred North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) staff are at risk of losing their jobs as the organisation reviews staffing levels.

The critically-harsh move comes after the State Government ordered the service to make a reported $200 million in savings over the next four years.

In response, Opposition politicians from Kempsey to the border will meet in Sydney today and tomorrow to plan protest action.

Jobs at risk include those of nurses, cleaners and management.

The NCAHS employs 6500 people from Port Macquarie to the border and west to the Dividing Range. Half of those employed are nurses, who already report long hours and difficult working conditions.

A spokesperson for the health service was unable to tell The Northern Star how many jobs would be lost, but confirmed a number of voluntary redundancies may be offered.

“As stated in the NSW mini-Budget, the economy is facing challenging economic times and all government departments and organisations, including the NCAHS, are expected to closely review their operations and make cost-saving efficiencies where possible,” the spokesperson said.

“There will be no change in the NSW Government’s 2008-09 budget allocation to the NCAHS of $717.7 million, an additional $36.7 million over last year, to deliver better services and improve health infrastructure.

“Given the continually rising demand for frontline services, the NCAHS, like other area health services, will henceforth be examining all expenditure, including staffing levels, to see where economies may be made.”

The spokesperson said there would be no forced redundancies and that it was ‘too early to speculate’ on the number of voluntary redundancies that may be offered to staff.

“The tight budgetary framework is expected to continue for some time, and any decisions taken will be in the context of ongoing planning,” he said.

National party politicians will meet in Sydney this afternoon and tomorrow morning to put together plans to protest the wide-ranging cuts, which will affect an area of the state which is expected to grow in population.

“We are disgusted at what is happening,” said Lismore MP Thomas George. “The Government is telling us that it will be back in surplus next year and the year after, yet this action is being forced on local people.

“Nurses and doctors are working in extreme conditions now. How will they cope under these cuts?

“There is a chance the whole system could collapse.”

Mr George confirmed that a wide spectrum of health professionals is prepared to fight the cuts.

“We live in a region that is growing in population,” he said. “We can’t afford to cut health services.”
Incredibly, the Government is claiming the cuts will actually help patients.

Spokesman for NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca, Andrew Plumley, said the savings made from the job cuts would allow the health service to make changes that would enable it to treat more patients.

“You’ll see in 12 months’ time, they would have treated more patients,” Mr Plumley said.

“They will have done that by doing things differently.”

Examples of how hospitals would do this included keeping patients in for shorter periods of time and using less invasive surgical techniques such as keyhole surgery, he said.

Mr Plumley said the savings and changes were necessary to cope with Australia’s growing and ageing population.

But the government had instructed area health service administrators to avoid cutting front-line jobs wherever possible, he said.

“They have been instructed that wherever possible those savings should not be made on the front-line, but these are decisions for the area health service,” he said.

NSW Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner accused the Government of ‘breathtaking dishonesty’ over promises that its budget cuts would not affect front-line staffing.

“That is just simply not true,” she said.

“Their own documents show that and now we have the administrators having to take these tough measures of putting off front-line staff.

“There’s no more important front-line staff member than a nurse. And nurses need the support of wards people, of cleaners and so on to do their job properly.

“This Government is simply out of control when it comes to managing the health system.”

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