6 February 2020

$60m injection to maintain swamped hospital services

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Hospital

Increasing demand has meant Canberra Hospital has been overspending. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Greater than expected demand has seen Canberra Hospital blow its budget for 2019-20, with the government having to tip in an extra $60 million to maintain services, particularly for elective surgery and emergency.

The cash injection comes as a result of the Mid-Year Budget Review, and will mean the Budget will take a hit to its bottom line.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith told ABC Radio that Canberra Hospital had been overspending for 2019-20 to keep up with growing demand.

She said the need for emergency and elective surgery had grown significantly over the past four years, along with an increase in emergency department presentations.

The extra spending comes after the Report on Government Services showed ACT was the worst in the nation in terms of seeing urgent and semi-urgent patients on time.

Health data consistently shows the ACT has poor waiting times, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last December reporting the Territory had the lowest rate of emergency department patients being seen on time in Australia.

Nationally, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time. In the ACT, only 46 per cent of patients were seen within the designated time frames.

Canberra Hospital’s treatment costs remain stubbornly high compared with other major hospitals.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the Government, while providing extra funding to maintain services at the current level, was also continuing to look for savings and efficiencies, but no staff or elective surgeries would be cut.

“We know that in a lot of spaces our hospital system is a lot more expensive than around the country and we need to continue to bring these costs down,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

The minister attributed the extra demand to the flu season, an increase in emergency patients requiring surgery, and patients presenting at the ED with complex conditions, including mental health issues.

There had been a 14.1 increase in emergency surgeries over the last four years.

“It’s really about Canberra Hospital continuing to meet its elective surgery targets while meeting this pressure that’s coming on in relation to emergency surgery,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said 14,000 elective surgeries were completed in 2019 and the hospital system was on track to meet this year’s target of 14,250.

She said it was expected the expanded Calvary emergency department, due to be completed next month, would make a positive impact on the situation, delivering a 20 per cent increase in emergency treatment spaces across the ACT.

Last year’s Budget saw an increase to staff at the Canberra Hospital ED.

Ms Stephen-Smith said people were using the nurse-led walk-in centres and this was relieving some of the ED pressure in the lower presentation categories.

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HiddenDragon8:05 pm 07 Feb 20

“Greater than expected demand has seen Canberra Hospital blow its budget for 2019-20, with the government having to tip in an extra $60 million to maintain services, particularly for elective surgery and emergency.”

According to this piece by former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, and former senior ACT Treasury officer Dr Khalid Ahmed, this is token, belated catch-up following the abandonment of several hundred millions in additional health funding which had been planned by Katy Gallagher – and which was cut after her move to the Senate.


Commenting on the abandoned plan for a full redevelopment of the Canberra Hospital site, Stanhope and Ahmed note that the Government’s proposed Surgical Procedures, Interventional Radiology and Emergency Centre (SPIRE) –

“has already been deferred twice and is now foreshadowed to be completed in 2024. It is planned to deliver only 148 beds, approximately one third of the number originally planned, and almost a decade late, by which time it is estimated an additional 400 beds will be required over the 2017-18 bed numbers based on the current growth estimates.

In short, if SPIRE was operational today it would be fully utilized and a further two similarly sized hospital bed supply projects would still need to be delivered by 2024 in order to meet currently estimated growth in demand for hospital beds.”

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