Help on the way: Lismore Base Hospital cancer unit patient Joyce Mulley, of North Lismore, relates her own battle with cancer to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin during their visit to the hospital yesterday.
Help on the way: Lismore Base Hospital cancer unit patient Joyce Mulley, of North Lismore, relates her own battle with cancer to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin during their visit to the hospital yesterday. Jacklyn Wagner

PM delivers $9.1m health package

LISMORE Base Hospital’s long history of under-funding would end under the Commonwealth’s plan to take over the health system, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said.

Mr Rudd was at the hospital yesterday to announce a $9.1 million cancer treatment package, which would make the city only the second regional centre in NSW, after Newcastle, to get a high-tech PET scanner for detecting cancers and heart and brain disease; along with a second radiotherapy device and help building a 20-unit accommodation centre for patients using the new cancer care unit.

The announcement got an enthusiastic response from patients at the hospital’s cancer unit.

North Lismore resident Joyce Mulley is five years into her own battle with cancer and was quick to ask the Prime Minister about the new devices when he arrived at the hospital yesterday morning.

“These machines will be a huge benefit to patients like me. If you’re not well the travelling is difficult, particularly for young patients with families,” she said.

“Being on the pension, we can’t afford the daily trips to Brisbane, and being away from home really doesn’t make life easy.”

Casino man Ian Gay told Mr Rudd battling cancer was tough enough without having to cope with travelling big distances to access radiotherapy treatment.

Mr Gay’s comment struck a chord with the Prime Minister, who quoted the line several times during his visit to the hospital.

Answering questions from The Northern Star, Mr Rudd said the ‘activity-based’ funding model proposed by the Federal Government, under its plan to become the dominant funder of Australia’s hospitals, would mean more money for the day-to-day running, staffing and capital works programs at Lismore Base Hospital.

“My job in bringing about anational reform through a National Health and Hospitals Network is to make sure that we have a funding model which provides real funding increases for hospitals, like Lismore Base Hospital, which are delivering more services,” he said.

Mr Rudd said the take-over would also include an increased focus on training to provide more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to hospitals and GP networks.

As to the question of Lismore Base Hospital’s anticipated Stage Three upgrade, which would replace the emergency department and wards, Mr Rudd said the new funding formula would include funding for capital works programs, but was unable to say how that would specifically relate to Stage Three.

Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin later said the Stage Three upgrade was one of the priorities for the Page electorate and called on the State Government to step up planning for the project.

She was also unable to say how the change to a Commonwealth dominated health system would specifically relate to the upgrade.

The plans for a Federal take-over of health has prompted some local officials to privately suggest it might result in a drop in funding for the Base Hospital.

However, Lismore anaesthetist and former Liberal State MP Brian Pezzutti said he believed the Federal Government’s plan would deliver more money to the hospital.

He said fears about Lismore losing money because of inefficiencies within the hospital did not recognise those ‘inefficiencies’ were really staff shortages, which forced the hospital to occasionally close operating theatres.

By addressing those staff shortages, which was one of the planks in the Government’s plan, those so-called inefficiencies would disappear and, with them, the hospital’s historic funding shortfall.

“North Coast Area Health Service has been under-funded for years and years and years,” Dr Pezzutti said. “It’s currently about 10 per cent off what it should be getting – that’s about $70 million a year.

“If Rudd uses a reasonable formula ... and funds it in a sensible way, we should do a lot better.”

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