18 November 2021

Former health minister Michael Moore blasts government over insufficient health funding, ED wait times

| Lottie Twyford
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Michael Moore

Former ACT independent Health Minister Michael Moore has blasted the government’s health performance over the last two decades. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Former independent Health Minister Michael Moore has delivered what he described as a “damning indictment” on the state of the ACT’s public health system as it continues to grapple with systemic bullying and harassment, as well as long emergency and elective surgery wait times.

His remarks follow publication of the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) annual report in early November which again confirmed the ACT’s decade-long streak as the worst performer in the country for urgent emergency department wait times.

According to the report, only 34 per cent of Canberra’s urgent emergency department patients are seen within the half-hour benchmark compared to the national average of 67 per cent. According to the government’s latest 2020-21 data, this has now dropped to just 29 per cent.

Mr Moore – who served as the independent Minister of Health and Community Care from 1998 to 2001 in Kate Carnell’s and then Gary Humphries’ Liberal minority governments – said two fundamental issues are affecting the ACT’s performance, “one is poor financing and the sustained funding cuts to the health system”. The second issue, he explained, is the day-to-day management of health.

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Mr Moore acknowledges the strain COVID-19 has put on the Territory’s health system and pays credit to it for having operated so smoothly throughout the pandemic, as did the AMA’s report. But he doesn’t think this can be used as an excuse for why the emergency department wait times aren’t improving, given it’s an issue that’s now been dragging on for two decades.

Mr Moore also pointed out all other states have been forced to contend with COVID-19, not just the ACT.

Giulia Jones

Opposition health spokesperson Giulia Jones said she was pleased to have independent voices joining her. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Opposition spokesperson for health Giulia Jones has been outspoken for some time about what she says is inadequate funding leading to a strain on the ACT’s public healthcare system.

She’s now pleased that an independent voice has echoed some of her concerns.

“There’s no reason we can’t get the Canberra Hospital performing better,” Mrs Jones said, although she’s not optimistic right now.

Only this week, Canberra-region resident Meagan Quattromani took to Facebook to share a recent experience at the Canberra Hospital Emergency Department.

She alleges she waited for two full days in the ED with her husband, Sam, who had a severed finger. They’d originally presented at a different hospital but had been told to come to Canberra as a plastic surgeon consult was required.

They arrived after 6 pm and were told to come back the next day. For the next two days, they arrived at the hospital between 6:45 am and 7 am. Sam was unable to eat and drink as he waited for surgery.

On the third day, Sam was booked in for surgery at 4 pm. After such a long wait, Meagan said she was concerned about possible infection and his mental health after two days of being unable to eat, drink, or take his usual medication.

During this time, both Meagan and Sam had to stay in a motel in Canberra as they lived more than an hour away from the hospital.

READ ALSO ACT public hospital emergency patients have longest wait in the country

Others took to the comments on the original Facebook post to share their own stories about spending days on end in the Emergency Department waiting to be seen.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said real inroads had been made into responding to some of the issues seen at emergency departments, and hearing stories like this was “frustrating”.

“It’s always disappointing for me when I hear about those kinds of consumer experiences … and that is why we have invested in increasing our emergency surgery capacity,” she explained.

“We are responding directly to those experiences.”

She’s previously admitted that hospitals are stretched at present but pointed to the $23 million funding set aside in the ACT budget for Canberra hospital emergency departments over the next four years.

Increasing and expanding the use of telehealth services and ensuring better coordination and cooperation between community services and public health systems will also help ease the burden on emergency departments, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

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Never let the health of the populace get in the way of a tram

The sad thing is that with all other States, Territory and Federal Governments, they eventually become answerable to the people.

With a left-leaning electorate, the cosy arrangement between the ALP and the Greens has pretty much guaranteed that the Libs will never again be in power.

Without the accountability that comes from potentially losing Government, nothing much will change. It’s worse still with multiple members per seat. No one really is under threat.

With no basic chance of Government, what Opposition member is going to bust a gut? (I like Parton, but as for the test of them…who are you?)

Steve Dawson1:28 pm 20 Nov 21

I am sure the Minister finds hearing about such inconveniences as “frustrating”. Goodness me that the “consumer experience” was unsatisfactory, says it all really. I am sure the staff work really hard but anytime any member of my family has to attend ED they had extended waits including my mother who was experiencing a heart attack and a daughter with a breathing difficulties due to acute asthma (not at the same time thankfully). I do not know where the funding will come from to fix these issues but I will bet my MBA that it will not come from the transport infrastructure funds.

Capital Retro8:15 am 19 Nov 21

He admits that he has known about this for two decades but only now does he speak out.

Why couldn’t he say it immediately preceding the last 5 elections?

HiddenDragon9:39 pm 18 Nov 21

“She’s previously admitted that hospitals are stretched at present but pointed to the $23 million funding set aside in the ACT budget for Canberra hospital emergency departments over the next four years.”

The pretty little graph on the rates notice which recently arrived in the mail informs me that this year, the ACT government will be spending $2.0 billion on health, and now, apparently, we are to believe that an extra $6 million a year (almost) will sort out the worst of the problems.

All pigs fueled and ready for take-off.

I don’t think any amount of money will fix the issues.

How wonderful it would be to have an effective opposition in Canberra that could truly hold the government to account. The health system in Canberra does have its challenges, but these challenges are much broader than ED and elective surgery! It was simply tragic to watch the muddled ramblings of the opposition health spokesman Giulia Jones in the Assembly last month. I feel totally disheartened that this is the best the Canberra Libs can come up with after 21 years in opposition. I have a message for Giulia Jones. The next election is in 2024. The challenge for your side is to come up with an alternative health policy that takes into account the broader health system including its many challenges, not just cherry picking what suits you. I’m not feeling confident!

Whilst I agree with you the Liberals are woeful, it seems strange to focus on them in an article describing how poor our health system is currently and has been for at least the last decade.

Perhaps the current Labor Greens government is slightly more relevant here as they are the ones who’ve been in charge for that entire period?

Well Chewy14, with all due respect to Michael Moore and his achievements, he was health minister in Kate Carnell’s Liberal government last century. I suggest readers do a quick calculation of how old they were when Mr Moore was Health Minister! And the article does mention Giulia Jones who is in government this century and has been muddledly vocal in talking down our health system, particularly ED and emergency surgery. I have just recently experienced the hospital and the care and treatment from the nurses and doctors were exceptional. One gets a little tired of hearing all this negativity from the opposition without them ever putting forward a plan on how they would tackle the challenges of our health system. They are the same challenges all governments in all jurisdictions face.

Unfortunately your own anecdotal experience does not negate the years (decades) of data from the whole ACT health system showing how poorly it performs and how it has actually gotten worse.

I’m not sure when you think Guilia Jones was in government but it’s literally her current job as a shadow minister to point out these clear failures.

You are right that the challenges we have here are the same as in other jurisdictions, so why is our health system performance metrics so much worse than those other jurisdictions?

I also agree with you that the doctors and nurses who work in the sector are exceptional, the failings are clearly at the management and governmental level. Which is where our focus should be.

Well Chewy14 I wouldn’t argue that the entire ACT hospital system is a failure. The ACT has seen a significant expansion of health and facilities since Michael Moore was health minister. Health is diverse and the figures go up and down. Yes there is bullying and yes our waiting times are getting worse. I don’t think the govt has denied that. The EDs service patients with all sorts of ailments on a Triage system and the ACT has expanded its medical drop in centres throughout Canberra to alleviate the pressure on EDs. Oppositions are there to hold the government to account I don’t deny that. I would also expect a bit more competence from the opposition health spokesperson Giulia Jones than her speech in the Assembly last month. It was a rant and pitiful to watch. The ACT performed better than any other jurisdiction during the Covid outbreak and the stats prove that. And not to forget the significant expansion of health and health funding in the latest budget. The ACT also treats NSW residents. It was only a few days ago that the AMA released a report into NSWs biggest hospitals raising serious concerns. They reported that over 60% of junior doctors work more than five hours of unrostered overtime in an average fortnight, a jump of more than 10 per cent compared to 2020. More than half of all trainee medics reported that they have been bullied or harassed. These are just a few of the challenges facing all hospitals around Australia not just the ACT.

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