Sunday, February 08, 2009


Hospitals further into crisis

By Clair Weavers, smh

February 08, 2009 12:00am

NSW public hospitals have officially hit rock bottom, producing their worst financial results on record.

The NSW Health annual report, to be tabled in Parliament next month, reveals all the State's health services blew their budgets during 2007-08, plunging them into unprecedented debt.

In total, health services overspent by $159.4 million - a result 500 per cent worse than in the previous year.

Despite this, patients are being forced to wait longer for beds and more medical mistakes are being made.

The disastrous results have prompted the State Government to declare a crackdown on spending and tighter monitoring of budgets.

But staff cutbacks are likely to have a detrimental impact on services to patients this financial year.

The Northern Sydney and Central Coast regions sank deepest into the red, racking up debts of $63.3 million - more than double the total health service overspend in 2006-07.

The debt-laden Greater Western and North Coast area health services each went over budget by about $30 million.

Unpaid bills also reached new highs, leaving businesses that supply hospitals struggling to stay afloat.

The value of accounts not paid within a benchmark of 45 days skyrocketed from zero in 2007 to $75.1 million in 2008.

South Eastern Sydney Illawarra was the worst offender, owing creditors $24.3 million. Greater Western had not paid $20.9 million and Greater Southern accumulated bills of $12.7 million.

This is the worst level of creditor payment on record - and the figure has increased since results were compiled.

Last week, NSW Health admitted the total amount owed to creditors was now at $117.5 million.

The report also revealed worrying slumps in key performance indicators.

One in four patients waited more than 30 minutes to be offloaded from an ambulance at emergency departments.

This transfer, described as "a challenge", is supposed to be as quick as possible to improve a patient's chance of survival and ambulance efficiency.

Nearly a quarter of emergency department patients waited more than eight hours for an inpatient bed.

Mistakes are also on the rise. There were 583 serious safety incidents "in which death or serious harm to a patient has occurred", the highest figure in at least five years.

NSW Health claimed, however, this was because of a change of definitions and better reporting.

There were also more incorrect procedures, including surgery mistakes, and more deaths of hospital patients in falls.

Overall, NSW Health's expenses amounted to a record $13.12 billion in 2007-08 - nearly $36 million a day.