Call for stronger Tasmanian flu strategy

The state government has been accused by the opposition of not having an effective flu season plan.

On Saturday, Health Minister Michael Ferguson repeated the government’s push for all Tasmanians to get a flu vaccination.  

It followed last week’s announcement to fund flu vaccinations for all Tasmanian children aged between six months and five years. 

However, Deputy Opposition Leader Michelle O’Byrne said the minister had not outlined a strategy to respond to demand on hospitals and aged care facilities. 

“Yes, everybody should get their injections,” she said.

“But we also need a plan to manage what happens in our hospitals, because people will present at emergency hospitals and we already know that there are no beds. 

“The minister needs to find a way to deal with those presentations and quite seriously needs to find a way to deal with what we had last year, which was horrendously sad deaths in nursing homes.

“For the minister just to say go out and get a flu shot, well frankly that’s an aggregation of his duties as minister for health.”

Mr Ferguson said the government was “re-doubling” its efforts to ensure the state was better prepared.

“We are as a health service, and the department, working with our staff to ensure that all measures are being taken and preparation to anticipate that flu season,” he said. 

“The government has permanently funded a range of new measures. We have opened up every physical space in this hospital and I know the management at our hospitals will also be exploring other options.

“But of course the longer-term is for more buildings, so we can accommodate more beds.”

In February, the government pledged $87.3 million to establish a brand new 32-bed ward at the Launceston General Hospital and an extra 40 beds. 

On Saturday, Mr Ferguson said the master-planning process for the development had commenced, but that the government’s short-term focus was on managing peak demand during winter. 

However, Ms O’Byrne said the LGH was already unable to cope with demand.  

“Strategies in healthcare should always be able to respond to the worst possible scenario,” she said.

“It will be no good for this minister to stand up in the middle of flu season and say, ‘I have got it wrong, I have got a plan’.

“Frankly that is what we expect him to do now.”