The ACT Health system is broken and the situation cannot continue.
Almost every week there is a new crisis. Every time a new problem is exposed, the government refuses to provide adequate answers, either avoiding questions, blocking out FOI documents, or simply denying the stark facts that are plainly in front of them.
A Royal Commission is the highest form of independent investigation, and is the only way to get real answers and real solutions.
It is now clear that, since the agreement in 2012 between Labor and the Greens to share power, ACT Health has been experiencing significant deterioration in performance in areas such as waiting times, bed numbers, governance, culture, staffing, infrastructure and funding.
Between 2015-16 and 2018-19, the Labor-Greens government cut real health expenditure per person by 3.6 per cent. Those cuts are now showing across the system.
Former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and treasury official Khalid Ahmed have identified a 150-hospital bed shortfall across ACT Health.
Today, less than 50 per cent of Emergency Department patients are seen within clinically recommended wait times in the ACT, with only 36 per cent of urgent patients being seen on time – the worst-performing jurisdiction in the country.
The AMA has stated elective surgery patients are waiting up to several years on hidden waiting lists to see specialists in hospital outpatient clinics.
More than 6000 patients are overdue for an endoscopy, waiting an average of 400 days across all triage categories despite the government being warned in 2009 that the number of suites needed to double.
Five private cardiologists wrote to the minister and stated that services have “deteriorated to standards far below national and international guidelines”.
A review into the ICU found “there was a lack of response or support from management to staff concerns” and “a negative workplace environment”.
The Fetal Medicine Unit lost its training accreditation on 31 August 2022, and staff have since reduced their hours or left the unit.
A 2022 review into Dhulwa identified significant dysfunction, including substandard care and a toxic workplace.
It was revealed in 2023 that private patient medical records were being sent to a union, with CHS saying patients have been let down due to the “serious breach” in the privacy of patients, concluding “trust was on the line and we’ve let these patients down”.
The 2021 Workplace Culture Survey revealed that 23 per cent of nurses and medical officers experienced bullying in the workplace over the last 12 months and one in eight nurses and one in four medical officers wanted to leave CHS in two years.
A survey by the Medical Board of Australia into junior doctor training in the ACT found that 29 per cent experienced bullying, harassment and/or racism.
Canberrans have the most expensive cost to visit a GP in the country, yet the ACT Government is adding payroll taxes to their costs that will worsen the problem.
It has been well documented that there are systemic failures across the ACT health system on a depressingly regular basis.
When trying to get answers on these and many other issues, questions and FOI requests have been blocked, dismissed or avoided by the government.
That leaves a responsible Assembly with only one choice – to call for an inquiry with full independence and full authority to seek and find answers.
That is why the Canberra Liberals are calling on the Chief Minister to establish a Royal Commission under the Royal Commissions Act 1991 to investigate the failures, current needs and future requirements of the ACT Health system.
The Royal Commission Terms of Reference are to include but not be limited to the consideration of staffing shortages, waiting times, management and cultural problems, poor results across key performance indicators, management and outcomes in the mental health system, governance issues, infrastructure requirements, and funding shortfalls and priorities.
Just like aged care, veterans’ affairs and the banking system federally, a Royal Commission can provide a pathway forward.
For the patients, for the staff doing their best in a broken system, and for the future of health care in Canberra, we need this Royal Commission.
Importantly, we are calling that the Royal Commission and report by the end of 2024. That is after the next ACT election. We are not proposing this as a pre-election stunt, but as a way to advise any future government of what the real issues are and what solutions are required.
It is the only way to fix a broken system.