Unhealthy wait for budget certainty at public hospitals

OK, HERE'S a pre- Christmas puzzle for you.

What have hospital budgets and long grass in common?

Answer: Both need urgent attention, pre-Christmas attention.

The state's public hospital budgets have been a problem for months, almost since July when they were supposedly announced with the launch of the three new Tasmanian Health Organisations.

But they weren't really.

The service agreements for the three new regional organisations predicted what somebody anticipated the budgets for the three regions, including their hospitals, should be.

And then the hospital chief executives spent the next four months waiting for the predicted budgets to be adjusted and readjusted until their final allocations were settled on last month, five months into the financial year.

Public hospital chiefs have become used to operating in financial darkness for several months into a new financial year but not this late - not nearly halfway through the particular year in which they have been warned to manage the little funds that they have in a fiscally prudent way.

It's still not settled.

Last week we found out that the federal government will not give Tasmania $6 million that the state had already factored into the three regional health organisations' budgets because we did not meet one of the funding guidelines. Evidently our population did not grow as fast as another government statistician predicted.

Since when has Tasmania's population grown much at all?

So the final, final, final budgets have again been screwed up and tossed in the waste paper bin so that new ones, minus the lost federal funding, can be settled.

"Who cares?" you say.

Nobody will close a public hospital because it's run out of money.

But they might just have to shut down services.

Imagine if your boss told you that he wasn't quite sure how much he would be paying you for a couple of months, that you would just have to guess how much you had to spend on essentials.

He will tally up the figures some time to see if you are under or over budget and have to pay some back.

What happens when the new, final, revised budgets turn up some time next year and the hospitals find that they have already overspent?

Will they go broke like a privately owned business would or will they have to trim services to make up the money?

And then there is grass, the long, waving-in-the-breeze kind that has found a new home along the sides of Launceston streets and in its parks and recreation areas.

It was long in October when we were all still muttering about spring growth from all the rain and unseasonally warm weather.

It was longer in November when the mumbling changed to concerns about fire hazards and councils started issuing abatement notices to householders with messy front yards.

It's even longer two weeks before Christmas along Lawrence Vale Road, down Wentworth Street, along Churchill Crescent and through the much-used Hoblers Bridge to Henry Street recreational area.

The Launceston City Council says that it has not run out of money for parks and roadside mowing.

But has it run out of staff?

So don't worry about presents this year, forget the Christmas cards. Just make Gus Green and me happy by lobbying your local council to clean up Launceston's backyard.

Tasmanian Health Organisation chief executives will probably kiss anybody who can provide them with a real, final, absolutely-rounded-off budget some time before February next year.


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