Investing in health infrastructure makes good sense. It creates jobs, while ensuring Tasmania keeps up with both innovation and demand on services.
The flow on effect of this also plays a large role in the success of being able to recruit and retain health professionals - including much needed specialists - to our state.
However, investing in health needs to represent more than just another expense on a growing list. Rather, it should be seen as investment in the wellbeing and overall productivity of Tasmanians. It also shouldn't come at the cost of investing in a workforce equipped to meet demands brought on by an ageing population and growing rates of chronic conditions. This is the sad reality facing our state.
The recently announced 2020-21 state budget has a lot of positives in regards to health spending. Overall there's $2.46 billion set aside for health - $276 million more than what was spent in 2019-20.
This includes not new, but ongoing commitments to improve health infrastructure across the state. One of the biggest commitments sits with the redevelopment of the Launceston General Hospital - a 2018 election promise.
However, Right to Information documents released Friday showed the state government spent almost $34 million on medical locums in the 2019-20 financial year. One of the highest expenses was at the LGH - totalling almost $13.4 million.
An overreliance on medical locums has been a criticism of the Health Department for some time. Health Minister Sarah Courtney said it shows the government is investing to keep the community safe, with more than 1500 FTE additional staff in the health system since 2014.
However Labor, who requested the information, says it's an example of a government doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.
COVID-19 has presented challenges no one can deny, but ballooning wait lists for medical procedures and hospital access block existed long before the pandemic.
What's clear is we can no longer continue to rely on locums. Instead the focus should be on long-term funding with a priority on staff recruitment. For this, we need a holistic and sustained approach.
There are many positive steps already being taken. Calvary Healthcare's unsolicited bid to develop a $100 million private co-located hospital is just one example. When public consultation for the LGH masterplan resumes next year, people will be able to have their say on what the next 50 years of health service delivery in Northern Tasmania should look like.
It's vital the government listens and remains transparent going forward.
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