Health cuts cost jobs, close beds

ABOUT 200 staff are expected to lose their jobs in Victoria's public hospitals in coming weeks as budget cuts close more beds and operating theatres across the state - a move likely to double waiting times for elective surgery.

Health Minister David Davis said the loss of $107 million in federal government funding over two years meant hospitals were making tough decisions about how they could save money.

''Wards and beds are already closing as a result of the federal funding cuts, and hospitals are working on plans to determine which staff they have to let go,'' he said on Monday.

While hospitals are trying to save health workers' jobs, the Australian Nursing Federation is concerned about nurses, particularly at the Royal Children's Hospital because it was already planning to cut nursing night duty hours in its overloaded emergency department.

A spokeswoman for the union said there were concerns about the impact of this given a 15 per cent increase in demand for emergency care last year at the new $1 billion hospital.

''There are concerns about safety,'' the spokeswoman said, adding that hospital management on Monday evaded questions about further effects of the budget cuts.

It came as Shelly Park, chief executive of Southern Health, Victoria's largest public health network, announced she was closing a 20-bed general medicine and rehabilitation ward at Monash Medical Centre in Clayton over the next two weeks, as well as four operating theatres and 20 beds across its Casey and Moorabbin Hospitals.

In a letter to staff, Ms Park said emergency services would also be reviewed, however she said the service was boosting its ''hospital-in-the-home'' program to try to compensate for some of the bed closures.

''There will be an impact right across the organisation … Emergency departments are a high cost within our services - we need to look at how they operate and how we can improve their efficiency,'' she said.

Ms Park did not detail job losses, but said both patients and staff affected by the cuts would be advised soon. ''We will all be feeling the funding impacts due the scale of this decision,'' she wrote.

The network is expected to do 1800 less elective surgery procedures. At the end of June last year, it had 8620 patients on its waiting lists.

While many health networks have submitted plans for bed closures to the department of health, it is unclear which jobs will go and where. Allied health professionals such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists are understood to be at risk and the Australian Medical Association's Victorian branch on Monday said it was concerned about ''front-line staff''.

Western Health has said it will close 70 beds over the next six months and the Royal Melbourne Hospital plans to close a 25-bed ward from February 4 until the end of June.

The cuts follow a funding adjustment by the federal government based on new population data from last year's census, which meant Victoria had to repay $40 million from last financial year and weather a cut of $67 million this year. The adjustment, which follows Victorian Government cuts of $616 million, caused a bitter dispute between state and federal treasurers and health ministers.

The federal government has said that overall funding for Victorian hospitals is increasing despite the $107 million write-down, and says the state government is using the issue as a smokescreen.

On Friday, Mr Davis wrote to federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to say the Bureau of Statistics had rejected the Commonwealth's population adjustments which led to the cuts. However, acting federal Health Minister Kate Ellis has rejected the ''mendacious claim''.

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