Launceston General Hospital has emerged as the jewel in the crown set to benefit from the Liberals' sweeping health policy after Premier Peter Gutwein announced to fast-track the co-located private hospital.
At an announcement on Monday, Mr Gutwein said not only would the a re-elected Liberal Government support the co-located private hospital bid, but it would also implement the second and third stage of the LGH masterplan to improve health outcomes in the North.
Increased funding to blitz Tasmania's elective surgery waiting list, more appointments for dental surgeries and procedures, along with a promise to bolster and increase health staff are also part of the broad policy.
On Monday, Labor health spokesman Bastien Siedel said the Liberals' health policy was "a sham that has already fallen apart."
"They [the Liberal Government] are responsible for the 50,000 Tasmanians who are waiting for a specialist appointment, and the 12,000 Tasmanians who are waiting for elective surgery," he said.
"We have patients who are dying while they are waiting for these specialist outpatient appointments or surgeries."
Dr Siedel said Labor had a Tasmania Action Plan they would announce soon that would address its health agenda, but didn't elaborate on what they would do if elected to government.
"The evidence is clear that surgery blitzes don't work. We have had multiple injections in the past and they don't work. They have had seven years and they have done nothing."
CALVARY'S HOSPITAL BID SUPPORTED
While the government previously has somewhat endorsed the bid, the project had not made any significant strides since.
"I'm very pleased to announce that a re-elected Liberal government will fast-track the co-location bid for a private hospital at the LGH, to provide a complementary service to the precinct," he said.
Mr Gutwein committed that within 30 days of being sworn in, the Liberal Government would finalise with Calvary Health Care a memorandum of understanding to remove any outstanding impediments to allow the project to be delivered.
Of those who responded, 85 per cent agreed Launceston needed a new co-located private hospital, while 10 per cent disagreed and 5 per cent were undecided.
St Lukes Health chief executive Paul Lupo said the support of the government for the co-located private hospital bid would be a "game-changer for future generations of Northern Tasmanians."
"We are a key voice for our members and what they are telling us is that access to health care is their biggest priority and this project would help to deliver that," he said.
"Not only for our private members, but it will help take the pressure off the public system."
He said the co-located private hospital would help to improve access, however, he was looking forward to more focus on preventative health, to rebalance priorities and health needs.
ELECTIVE SURGERY BLITZ ON CARDS
Tasmanians languishing on waiting lists for elective surgeries have some hope that relief may be in sight, if the Liberals are re-elected.
Mr Gutwein's policy for health includes an additional $120 million investment, for a total of $156.4 million to deliver a record program of elective surgery to slash waiting lists.
It will mean an additional 23,300 elective surgeries and endoscopies will be performed across the state and help to relieve the backlog the Liberals' say was worsened during COVID-19.
The wait-list is currently sitting at more than 12,000 people. More than 180 staff statewide are expected to support this increase in volume, including more than 112 nurses, 10 doctors, 16 allied health staff as well as more than 40 hospital support staff.
Incumbent member for Bass Sarah Courtney said this announcement was "an important policy" for the Tasmanians waiting for surgery.
"We know that many people are waiting for surgery and this is an important investment. With COVID-19 last year and the decision to cease all elective surgery in Tasmania we saw some challenges with that," she said.
"We want to ensure that we are bringing as many elective surgeries forward as we can."
When asked why the Liberals had not achieved this blitz during their term of government, Ms Courtney said the government's announcement would build on the momentum they'd already achieved.
"We have continued to announce additional funding for elective surgery, we have already put forward significant funding, which we have already started to ramp up," she said.
"What this will do is ensure that bolstered capacity we delivered last year and continue this surge over the next four years."
Ms Courtney said the funding would be delivered in consultation with clinicians, but she expected to prioritise those who'd been waiting the longest for their surgery.
LGH MASTERPLAN NEXT STEPS
Details of the LGH masterplan have been kept close to the state government's chest, but the Liberals' health policy promises to deliver a "fully staged plan" to the public within the first six months.
A leaked Tasmania Health Service North Executive meeting paper obtained by The Examiner in February laid bare the plans for the health precinct site and included further investment opportunities.
The paper revealed details of the design and construction of a mental health services precinct on the existing Anne O'Byrne site, and a new tower on the hospital's Northside site.
Confirmation of those plans are detailed in the Liberals' health policy, which outlines some of the infrastructure commitments it has planned for the LGH, which include:
- Construction of a new purpose-built mental health precinct, where the Anne O'Byrne building currently stands, to replace the existing Northside building.
- Construction of a new seven-storey tower block on the current Northside site, providing space for up to seven new hospital wards, as well as expansion and refurbishment of existing wards, to provide more single rooms.
- A redesigned ambulance and patient drop-off zone, as well as a new and bigger ED waiting room, including separate areas for children, adults and people in acute psychological distress.
- The planned new Ward 3D designed and fitted out as a dedicated Older Persons unit, to enable best practice care for our most vulnerable patients.
- A full refurbishment of the adjacent 39 Frankland Street, as a dedicated administration and learning hub.
- A new 10 bed, five-recliner, coronary care unit, as part of an expansion of medical imaging.
The policy states the federal government will be approached to assist with funding the changes, which will be developed of the next 10-20 years at Launceston's public hospital.
OTHER HEALTH COMMITMENTS
The Liberals have also pledged to provide a one-off $20 million fund to private hospitals to help support the public hospitals manage demand and strain.
Within seven days of the swearing in of a re-elected Liberal Government, members will meet with each major private hospital as well as the community nursing and home care sector to discuss the provision of these services, and work to put arrangements in place by June 30, 2021.
It will also strengthen palliative and community health care with an additional $52 million for in-home and community delivered health care services.
Invest an additional $20 million over two years to replace and upgrade critical hospital equipment across Tasmania, including diagnostic imaging equipment.
Provide an additional $5 million for around 20,000 additional dental appointments statewide. These appointments will support public oral health patients across emergency dental, general dental care and denture clinics.
HEALTHY HEARTS PARTNERSHIP
As part of the $52 million plan to strengthen palliative and community health care, the Liberals have also pledged $600,000 to the Heart Foundation to support Tasmanians recovering from cardiac incidents.
"In Tasmania there are high levels of heart attacks and disease, we see many Tasmanians endure heart attacks," Ms Courtney said.
"But what we also see is that we get better outcomes for patients, if they receive care in their local communities, in the aged care facilities and at home."
Ms Courtney said the funding delivered to the Foundation would help it deliver important services to help people recovering from cardiac surgeries or who are living with heart problems.
Foundation Tasmanian chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly said heart disease was still the number one killer in the state.
"It's really important that people get the recovery and post-operative care that they need so we welcome this funding," she said.
Ms Jolly said the funding would be used to support a suite of Heart Foundation services, from access to information, raising awareness and better access to rehabilitation, among other things.
'WE NEED MORE THAN A HEADLINE'
Australian Medical Association Tasmania branch president Helen McArdle said the Liberals' commitment to the co-located hospital and for equipment upgrades was welcome.
However, she called on all major parties to guarantee any increased funding to elective surgery would increase capacity and be built into the long-term health budget.
"There needs to be more than election promises ... what we need is for the next government to deliver a a long-term game plan, as time and time again we are seeing the system and healthcare workers at breaking point and patients not treated within time frames," she said.
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Dr McArdle said COVID-19 had impacted elective surgery but it wasn't the only issue facing the waiting list in Tasmania.
"Pre-COVID, we were completing about 15,000 elective surgery cases while we added 19,000 at the same time. Elective surgery was already underfunded before COVID; funding must meet increases in demand as well as the increased costs of running the health system."
"We need more open and transparent real-time data on elective surgery and the reasons for its cancellations so that promises can be made in election campaigns that will make a real difference and not just a headline from either political party."
Dr McArdle said the AMA believed much more could be done to improve Tasmania's health service.
"The future looks grim if governments do not start to tackle the issues in more than a band-aid manner."