Two weeks on from one of the most significant cabinet reshuffles in recent memory, The Examiner's health reporter Jessica Willard sat down with Sarah Courtney to discuss her new portfolio and the road ahead.
JW: You've spent a week engaging with health stakeholders across the state. Why did you think it was important to visit the hospitals and talk with staff?
SC: "There are a number of reasons why I felt that was important. Firstly, because the health system employs thousands of Tasmanians. So I am really keen to engage with all our clinicians and the hard working men and women that work within the hospital system, to understand their needs, their concerns, their ideas. I thought that was a really important aspect of it.
JW:Where does your interest in health stem from?
SC: I want good outcomes for Tasmanians. I know we have in Tasmania, a lot of challenges with regards to our health statistics. We also have an ageing population. But in terms of the quality of life of Tasmanians, we know if you are healthy you have a higher quality of life and you have more opportunities available to you.
JW:There is unprecedented demand facing the health system. How do you expect we'll be able meet that demand?
SC: What I've learned, particularly in the last week, is that there's no single, silver bullet to fix that. It's not just the volume of demand, it's the complexity of the cases that are coming to our hospitals. So there are a range of things. Some of those are around being able to support the provision of new beds. We also have to look at how we are working within a hospital system, to be able to ensure that we have good information flow. It's about working with providers within the community, to ensure that we are servicing people that don't have acute needs - in the most appropriate setting. It is also about ensuring, before people even reach hospital, that we are providing community members with the support they need, so that their conditions don't develop into such cases that they need to be presenting to emergency departments. My predecessor [Michael Ferguson], just before he finished up with the [health] portfolio, oversaw the access solutions meeting and the development of a plan. So we are looking at short, medium and long-term solutions there and I'm very motivated and committed to making sure that the deliverables that we have in that, are made.
JW:We've seen a number of those actions implemented in the South. When are going to see them in the North?
SC: I am really committed to making sure that we roll solutions out across the state. We don't have any of our hospitals operating in isolation from each other. So it's important that we have good communication and good relationships between all of our hospitals, including the private sector as well. So, this is part of the solution. Making sure we are using the capacity within our health system. Using the expertise to the best of its ability.
JW:The health system was moved away from a three region model to a one health system, with a commitment to return decision making to a local level. Do you think it's working, or is there still too much bureaucracy?
SC: I think it's working, but I think there is more work that needs to be done. One of the things I have seen really clearly this week, is that we have a great deal of knowledge within each of our wards and departments. So, I want to make sure that those local insights are being utilised fully. We have great ideas, we have great mechanisms to be able to make improvements. We need to be listening and acting on those, as well as empowering people across the system to make improvements and to make decisions.
JW:Do you think there will be further restructures?
SC: That is not something I am contemplating at the moment. But I am very keen to make sure that we do have utilisation of local decision making, ensuring that we have the best outcomes that are right for every region, and indeed, every ward.
JW:What's the health system going to look like when the government's efficiency dividends are implemented?
SC:Well the efficiency dividends is not going to have an impact on frontline services. That is something that the government has committed to. As with all agencies, we are working through what that means health and the department. Indeed as minister, my objective is making sure that the delivery of services to Tasmanians, is increased.
JW:So there won't be any cuts to frontline staff?
SC: My expectation is we are not going to have any impact on frontline service delivery, from the efficiency dividend.
JW: On abortions, interim access has been available since November, but we still haven't seen a dedicated state-wide service implemented. Are you pro-choice and will you ensure all Tasmanian women can access safe and affordable abortions?
SC: I want all Tasmanian women to be able to access the services that are right for them. And if that is access to surgical terminations, then I want Tasmanian women to be able to have access to those services. It's important to recognise that Tasmanian women across the state do have access to this service. I'm committed, as well as Minister for Women, in making sure we're providing not just the full suite of services, but the information and support women need, often during what is a very vulnerable time.
JW:Do you think abortions should be available in public hospitals?
SC:I think women should be supported to be able to make the choices that they want to make, that are right for them.