Shadow health minister Jillian Skinner discusses State Opposition plans for the NSW health system with Lismore MP Thomas George during a visit to Lismore yesterday.
Shadow health minister Jillian Skinner discusses State Opposition plans for the NSW health system with Lismore MP Thomas George during a visit to Lismore yesterday. Cathy Adams

Opposition pledges health fair go

THE State Government should step in to ensure chaplains are employed at all public hospitals, including Lismore Base Hospital, State Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said yesterday.

“Chaplains are of enormous support and comfort to people at times of distress and it just shows theGovernment doesn’t have a heart,” she said yesterday.

Her comments come as Lismore Base Hospital is about to lose its chaplain as the North Coast Area Health Service attempts to slash its budget by $30 million.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Northern Star yesterday, Mrs Skinner restated the Coalition’s long-standing policy of replacing area health services with smaller ‘community-focused’ health district boards to ensure local decisions and more input from clinicians.

She also said a Coalition government would more fairly fund health services on the North Coast which, even according to the Government’s own funding formulae, are massively short-changed.

The construction of Stage Three at Lismore Base Hospital also would be a priority, she said, rejecting some suggestions it should be build in stages.

“I give an absolute commitment to building Stage Three, but I can’t give any specifics in regards to timing,” Mrs Skinner said. “Stage Three isvery important because without the facilities you can’t do the treatment. It boils down to getting a fair shareof resources and revisiting theresource distribution formula.

“The North Coast is probably the area that has the poorest distribution according to population and need.”

Mrs Skinner said the proposed district boards, with representation of doctors, would mean decisions would be made on a local basis.

“If clinicians had been involved in the decision to close the (Lismore Base Hospital’s) pain clinic, it wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

“If you have a cancer unit here you need the doctors to treat the patients. This is not a new cost. Those patients are now being treated by either being sent to Queensland or Sydney, and so it’s about redistribution of resources.”

Mrs Skinner said if elected, the Coalition would conduct an audit of the State’s health needs to determine which hospitals and areas needed immediate funding.

“I will guarantee that you will get a fairer share under the resource distribution formula,” she said.

Two days after the Government released its audit of how it has implemented the Garling Report into the health system, Mrs Skinner said she was not surprised no area health system had completed the entire first set of recommendations.

The Government’s independent Caring Together audit found a year after the landmark Garling Report that the health system was still under ‘severe financial strain’, with its clinicians finding it increasingly difficult to deliver quality patient care.

Last year, the Government slashed $400 million from the State’s health budget, including $30 million from North Coast Area Health.

Mrs Skinner said there wouldn’t be a bucket-load of extra money for health under a Coalition government, adding that available funds needed to be used more wisely.

“One of the things Peter Garling has highlighted, and I have highlighted, is hospital infections. They cost between $600 million and $1 billion a year in NSW and we have the worst infection rate in the country. If you can address that then you will make a huge difference,” she said.

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