Dr Rudd 'rescues' our hospitals
THE long-awaited Federal Government health reform package was broadly welcomed by rural health experts yesterday, with one high-profile Goonellabah doctor describing it a ‘winner’.
The centrepiece of the plan is a $90 billion Federal funding take-over, with Canberra picking up the tab for 60 per cent of all services, infrastructure and research costs in public hospitals.
Also winning plaudits was the proposal to establish national local hospital networks, with local professionals given the power to decide how and what services are delivered to their communities.
“It’s a winner if these parts are implemented as promised,” Goonellabah doctor Chris Ingall said.
Dr Ingall, who is also media liaison officer for the Medical Staff Council at Lismore Base Hospital, said the hospital should also get an injection of funds under the new case mix funding model.
The new funding structure is based on the Victorian model that pays hospitals for the type of operations and services they provide, rather than the current bulk funding given to state governments.
“Lismore offers more complex procedures than any other regional hospital, but it has never been funded for that,” Dr Ingall said.
“Under the new case mix model the hospital should receive more funding, which can then be used to reduce waiting times.”
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who yesterday conceded the health system was a ‘mess’, described the plan as the biggest shake-up since the introduction of Medicare.
He said he would put the plan to the states at the next heads of government conference on April 11.
If they do not agree, Mr Rudd said he would call a referendum on or before the next poll, ensuring health was a major election issue.
State health ministers, including NSW’s Carmel Tebbutt, were lukewarm on the proposal yesterday.
“We need to look at the detail,” she said. “We’ll be carefully looking through the detail and analysing the impact for the people of NSW. Any decisions we take will be guided by what is in the best interests of the people of NSW.”
However, the National Rural Health Alliance urged state ministers to sign up to the deal that will be funded through the GST.
“As long as the funding formula takes account of the increased costs and difficulty of providing services in rural and remote areas, the (plan) ... will give hope for the revitalisation of rural hospitals,” chairwoman Jenny May said.
Northern Rivers rural health expert Dr Sue Page said while she was uneasy with the case mix funding model, she welcomed the role of the local boards.
“At least if we get the funding in our hands, we can decide how it is spent,” she said.
Dr Page also said the region would receive a boost from the extra training and research funding.
She said as about a quarter of medical students spent time in rural and regional hospitals, funding would now follow them to those areas.
While much of the detail of the Rudd plan was lacking yesterday, Dr Page envisaged the North Coast Area Health Service would be replaced by two local boards.
Lismore Base would be the centre of one cluster of hospitals that included Casino, Kyogle, Coraki, Woodenbong, Ballina and Nimbin hospitals, she said. The other would include Tweed, Byron, Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah hospitals.
One of her misgivings about this was the networks were based on the number of hospital buildings, rather than an area’s population.
Mr Rudd also promised yesterday to make a series of announcements over coming months dealing with the training of doctors and nurses; increasing the number of hospital beds; improving GP services; and the introduction of personally-controlled electronic health records.