Hospital chiefs in fight for beds

VICTORIAN hospital chiefs are pleading with the Baillieu government to step in and prevent hundreds of bed closures and up to 750 job losses due to savage budget cuts.

As more hospitals slash services due to the unexpected loss of $107 million in Commonwealth funding this year, hospital CEOs and the Australian Medical Association yesterday called for the state government to absorb some of the loss so hospitals would not have to cut a predicted 440 beds - the equivalent of an entire tertiary hospital.

While the two groups have been supporting the Victorian government's campaign to pressure the Commonwealth into reversing its cut, they are now calling for the state to bail out hospitals that have already closed more than 200 beds since December.

Trevor Carr, chief executive of the Victorian Healthcare Association, which represents most public hospitals, said he and several CEOs met with Victorian Health Minister David Davis yesterday to ask for help.

Mr Carr said up to 750 jobs could go as a result of the federal budget cuts, which hospital board chairs have described as ''unprecedented''. The Commonwealth cuts coincide with the Baillieu government slashing $616 million from its last two health budgets.

Surgeons have estimated elective surgery waiting times could double in coming months at that no one would be immune, including children.

Mr Carr said Mr Davis did not agree to absorb the Commonwealth cuts or defer passing them on until the next financial year. ''The clear message was the treasury has no spare funds,'' Mr Carr said.

However, Mr Davis did indicate he would attempt to help hospitals with the cost of staff changes, including redundancy payouts and for schemes to reduce duplication in the system, Mr Carr said.

President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association Dr Stephen Parnis said doctors believed the bed closures were already starting to impact on patients who were waiting longer for care in some emergency departments.

"It is already biting and biting hard…The AMA has said to the government that we think it is incumbent on them to quarantine health services as much as possible," he said, adding that he was "profoundly concerned" about potential job losses among doctors.

''We are talking about people who are desperately needed across the community,'' he said.

State president of the Australian Nursing Federation Lisa Fitzpatrick repeated her call for the state government to invest more money in the system and demanded Premier Ted Baillieu return to work from holidays to deal with it. She said it was outrageous that the state government was happy to pay for redundancies rather than staff to care for patients.

''He should be back from leave, on the phone, meeting with Julia Gillard and proposing a compromise,'' she said.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan would not comment on the Commonwealth's position last night, however Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has previously rejected calls for the cuts to be reconsidered, saying the Baillieu Government is using issue to smokescreen its own health cuts. Last night, Mr Davis said he had not given up hope of the Commonwealth changing its position on its controversial decision to cut funding based on new population data.

He said he was working with hospitals on ways to free up money, but did not have a large amount to spend.

He said patients on the elective surgery waiting list could expect to start receiving letters from hospitals about delays in receiving care. ''We're trying to manage this as best we can and to keep as many beds as open as possible,'' he said.

Northern Health said it had closed 32 surgical beds at the Northern Hospital and 20 rehabilitation beds at its Bundoora and Broadmeadows sites.

A spokeswoman for Mercy Health, which includes the Mercy Werribee and Heidelberg Hospital for Women, said it would also cut unspecified health services.

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