Local health jobs to be cut

NORTH Coast health unions have been told jobs will go to maximise funding under a new Federal-State agreement intended to fix the nation’s health system.

NSW Nurses Association organiser Jo McKeough said she and a representative from the Health Services Union were told the area health service would cut 62 positions to maximise efficiency funding under the new arrangements.

However, Page MP Janelle Saffin accused the service of ‘not being truthful’ about the cuts, saying she understood they had ‘been on the books for a while’.

A spokesperson for the health service last night declined to comment directly on the claims, but released a statement saying the service was ‘assessing its resources to ensure that they are meeting patient needs within budget’.

Ms McKeough said union officials were told of the cuts at a meeting with senior administrators from the North Coast Area Health Service at Coffs Harbour on Wednesday, only hours before NSW Premier Kristina Keneally announced a revamp of the State’s eight area health services into 18 ‘local health networks’ from January 11.

The Far North Coast’s network would be called the Northern Local Health Network and mimic the footprint of the old Northern Rivers Area Health Service. It would be run by a chief executive and a governing council made up of regional clinicians, health and healthcare management experts and community representatives.

Ms McKeough said the union officials were not told where the job cuts would be made, when they would happen or what positions were under threat.

However, she said she expected the cuts would be aimed at the Lismore, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, and Port Macquarie hospitals and would remove jobs, or at least hours, from fields such as nursing, cleaning and wardsmen.

Ms McKeough said the cuts would bring the health service slightly above the 400 positions it wanted to axe last year after the State Government cut $30 million from its budget.

She said administrators had based their case for the job cuts on efficiency comparisons between regional hospitals across NSW.

However, she questioned those figures, saying the comparisons were unfair.

For example, Ms McKeough said union officials were told Port Macquarie’s surgical unit was inefficient because it was too expensive.

She said most of the procedures performed there were expensive joint operations done by orthopaedic surgeons, which would push up the figures.

Ms McKeough said some of the ‘inefficiencies’ also appeared to be accounting issues.

After already losing hundreds of positions last year, the North Coast’s hospitals could not afford to lose any more nurses or general positions.

“They can’t work any harder or any faster and keep people safe,” she said.

Ms Saffin said she backed the nurses and fiercly denied Federal health reforms were to blame for the cuts.

“The community is not going to cop our nurses going,” Ms Saffin said.

In its statement last night, the health service said ‘assessing its resources’ was in line with a ‘commitment to continually provide high quality patient care’.

“The NCAHS can reassure the community that no permanent frontline staff will be affected, nor will there be any voluntary redundancies offered,” the statement read.

“Any changes that occur will be through natural attrition and redeployment.

“The NCAHS will continue to hold discussions and work in good faith with the unions and staff throughout this process.”

Lismore Base Hospital Medical Staff Council media liaison officer Dr Chris Ingall said he was disturbed by the prospect of a new round of job cuts.

He said about 40 positions within community health were already unfilled, with the health service refusing to replace staff.

A critical therapy position at Lismore Hospital’s children ward was recently axed without warning, he said.

“Basically, these positions also become cut positions because they won’t put a (recruitment) ad in the paper,” he said.

“The Medical Staff Council understands there are at least 40 unadvertised positions in community health locally but we are a little unsure how many positions are not being advertised in the acute care system.”

Dr Ingall said each time a position was cut it put extra pressure on other staff, creating potentially dangerous situation for patients, particularly in acute care.

A North Coast Area Health Service spokeswoman said the health service was currently recruiting for five community and allied health positions.

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