Skinner defiant on health cuts

MORE than $60 million in health funding is at stake, but the state’s Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, says she will   ‘‘not be pushed’’ by a federal government target stipulating that 69 per cent of patients  in emergency departments are treated and referred on within four hours.

For the third quarter in a row, the state’s hospitals failed to meet the benchmark which, under the national health reform agreement, means NSW will not qualify for $15.9 million in federal ‘‘bonus’’ funding this year.

Ms Skinner said the targets meant patients risked being rushed through emergency departments.

‘‘I always knew we weren’t going to meet the targets,’’  she said.

‘‘The reality is we’ve got to make sure people coming through emergency departments are getting the right tests, the right diagnosis and the right treatment.

‘‘That might take more than four hours,  but so be it. I won’t  be pushed by any Commonwealth targets.’’

In the July-September quarter, only 57 per cent of patients were treated, transferred or discharged from  emergency departments within four hours, data released by the Bureau of Health Information on Thursday shows.

The target will rise to 90 per cent in 2015, with a total of $63.6 million in bonuses now in jeopardy.

A  professor of intensive care at the University of NSW, Ken Hillman,  said a similar benchmarking system in Britain had failed. ‘‘They dumped it just as Australia was introducing it, recognising the system had very little to do with patient care,’’ he said.

On the contrary, it meant emergency department doctors were potentially forced to take shortcuts, Professor Hillman said. Emergency patients were increasingly elderly or terminally ill and needed more support in the home or to be moved into palliative or aged care, he said, and were the areas governments should be investing in.

Emergency patients were increasingly elderly or terminally ill and needed more support in the home or to be moved into palliative or aged care, he said, and were the areas governments should be investing in.

Writing in the latest edition of  Australian Health Review, an emergency doctor at Harvard University, Matthew Anstey, said the benchmark treated emergency departments ‘‘like production lines’’.

If bed numbers were not increased, he wrote, hospitals would be forced to meet the four hour rule by holding patients in corridors or increasing discharges.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Ageing said the Council of Australian Governments would reassess the targets next year.

‘‘All first ministers, including NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, agreed on the [targets] in 2011,’’ he said.

‘‘This is a deliberate stretch target to prompt a stronger focus on more efficient organisation and delivery of hospital services.’’

 

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