Monday, February 15, 2010


Red News Readers,

Re-establishing hospital boards will not change anything in the health system. Abbott’s policy is just a gift to those doctors who support the Coalition. And in fact, hospital boards may become the scapegoat in the system, so those doctors advocating the return of hospital boards may want to think carefully about what they are proposing. Having a few elite members of an institution attend a board meeting, is not going to do anything for elective surgery waiting times, or emergency department access, or clinical standards performance by inexperienced staff lacking adequate supervision from more experienced staff. These are the immediate issues that need to be dealt with, not establishing a meeting where doctors get a warm feeling in their tummy that they have their power back.

Jenny Haines

Abbott plans boards to rescue ailing hospitals


February 15, 2010

NSW hospitals are so bad they need a Northern Territory-style intervention, says Tony Abbott, who wants local boards to assume control of the state's major public hospitals.

The opposition leader was flanked by his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, as he announced his first major health policy, which was immediately dismissed by the government as a Band-Aid solution, inadequate to the health system's problems.

Under a Coalition government, chief executive officers would manage hospitals in NSW and Queensland. These officers would be accountable to management boards made up of community and business leaders and doctor and nurse representatives, and who would control the hospital's funding.

Governments would set the overall funding for a hospital, but would not be able to cut spending on a hospital if it raised money from private patients or fund-raising. The idea mirrors a proposal Mr Abbott made while health minister in the Howard government.

''That is the change that our public hospital system needs … particularly in NSW and Queensland where chronic, systemic mismanagement really requires federal intervention along the lines of the intervention in the Northern Territory's remote communities back in 2007,'' Mr Abbott said yesterday, alongside his health spokesman, Peter Dutton, and Mr Turnbull.

The hospital where Mr Abbott chose to make his announcement, St Vincent's, is in Mr Turnbull's electorate.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said Mr Abbott's policy was a ''minor-league solution'' to a ''major-league problem''.

She said it would not make any difference for three reasons. It was not a national policy; it did not do anything to manage waste or duplication in the health system; and it provided no additional funding for doctors or beds.

The government is due to announce its own health policy in coming months, and yesterday stressed its policy would tackle the duplication of funding across state and federal governments.

But Ms Roxon did not rule out empowering local boards along the lines of Mr Abbott's idea.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has said that one of the key comments he heard while consulting hospitals was that clinicians wanted more control over finances. Yesterday he conceded he had taken longer than planned to put in place reform, but said the delay was needed to get it right.

''We believe the system requires urgent surgery, we need more hospital beds, we need the elimination of waste between the Commonwealth and the states, and that is why a bold reform plan for the future is necessary,'' Mr Rudd said.

Tim Woodruff, president of the Doctors Reform Society, said the health system needed more co-ordination, not to be divided up along the lines suggested by Mr Abbott. ''Our feeling is that this is a move back to the 1950s,'' he said. ''Hospital boards throughout the country would simply result in a lot more infighting.''

In its budget submission, released today, the Business Council of Australia calls for federal and state health funding to be combined to reduce the duplication of programs.