ACT Labor may have presided over continuing poor Emergency Department performance, elective surgery blowouts and alleged chronic underfunding of public hospitals, but the ACT Australian Medical Association remains sceptical of the Canberra Liberals’ plans to halve waiting lists and how they would attract more health professionals to Canberra.
The Canberra Liberals’ about-face on nurse-led walk-in centres has also disappointed local doctors.
But AMA ACT President Antonio Di Dio said doctors were undecided about which health platform would be better for the people of Canberra.
The AMA released its national scorecard on public hospitals today (1 October) and the news is not good for Labor, with the ACT faring badly for the third year in a row.
The report found that slightly more than 30 per cent of urgent ED patients in the ACT were seen within the recommended time of 30 minutes compared to a national average of more than 60 per cent, and the ACT was the worst-performing state or territory.
Median waiting times for elective surgery in the ACT improved over the course of the year but the ACT performance continues to be worse than the national average and is in front of only the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
In the 10-year period to 2017-18, the average annual per-person growth in public hospital funding contributed by the ACT Government was 0.88 per cent a year, but for the second half of the decade it was -2.74 per cent a year.
The AMA’s finding supports the arguments of former Labor chief minister Jon Stanhope that the Barr Government has underfunded public hospitals, diverting funding to other areas such as light rail.
Dr Di Dio said this had affected the government’s ability to stay on top of elective surgery and fix issues in the EDs, especially bed block, and that the $30 million earmarked for new walk-in centres would be better spent in EDs.
He denied that doctors saw the centres as rivals, saying they were simply not value for money and did not relieve ED pressures as the government said they would.
But Dr Di Dio also criticised the Canberra Liberals for a lack of detail on their plans for the health system.
”I don’t think the Liberals have genuinely given us how they’re going to pay for it,” he said.
”The statement about halving waiting times sounds terribly appealing but I’m not sure that I can approve of it until I can have some kind of evidence that there is a pathway and a strategy that they’ve got, and some details to explain how they are going to achieve that.”
He said the $600 million-plus Canberra Hospital expansion, formerly known as SPIRE, should resolve many of the issues, although the number of theatres was still a concern.
But after being let down by Labor’s failed 2016 commitment, Dr Di Dio remains wary about the project being delivered.
”I think it will happen but I’m deeply disappointed it didn’t happen four years ago. If it does happen it will go a long way to solving our problems,” he said.
Labor is also promising a dedicated elective surgery unit at the University of Canberra Hospital.
Beyond the expansion, Dr Di Dio said the ACT needed infrastructure investment to better integrate hospital, specialist, GP and allied health services, remove duplication and improve the quality of care across the system.
”This will, in turn, help take the pressure off our EDs by ensuring that conditions that are better managed in the community do not have to be managed in our EDs,” he said.
”Not only will we help our EDs, but even more importantly, patient outcomes will be improved too.”
Dr Di Dio said any government needed to sort out the ACT’s hospital funding issues.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said around 30 per cent of the Budget was allocated to our health system, and health funding had increased to $1.828 billion in 2019-20, almost double funding in 2009-10.
The Canberra Hospital expansion would almost double the number of Intensive Care Unit beds available, provide 22 new operating theatres and increase the number of Emergency Department spaces to 114.
Ms Stephen-Smith said Labor was already taking an integrated Territory-wide approach to delivering healthcare services.
”This approach focuses on integrating services across three areas of health – preventive health, community-based services and care in hospital,” she said.