Federal government backflips on health cuts

BENDIGO Health chief executive John Mulder has welcomed the federal government's shock decision to reverse more than $100 million in hospital budgets.

Bendigo Health recently revealed the cuts, totalling $2.9 million in Bendigo, would close about one in seven acute hospital beds and add about 500 people to local surgery waiting lists. 

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek last night said the money would be reinstated. 

Mr Mulder said the planned service reductions due to be brought in at the end of March would no longer go ahead.

"Bendigo Health can now continue to deliver high quality health care to the people of the Loddon Mallee region without implementing the planned service reductions and asking our staff to take leave," he said.

"I wish to thank our staff, patients and members of the community for their support and co-operation during what has been a challenging period for the Bendigo Health team and I apologise for the disruption that this issue may have caused."

Australian Medical Association Victorian president Dr Stephen Parnis said the money would save lives but was only the first step in restoring full funding to the system.

“Assuming this money is restored into hospital budgets immediately, this will save lives,” he said. 

“What it should do is allow hospitals to reverse the fairly drastic measures they’ve had to take across the state in the last month or so, which meant reducing medical staff, closing operating theatres and closing beds. 

“The net effect was delays to elective and emergency care for a lot of Victorians. 

“No doubt in my mind it was putting lives at risk.”

Ms Plibersek said the $107 million would be paid directly to hospitals and that the Baillieu government had failed to properly manage the “adjustments” made by the Commonwealth. 

“We believe we have an obligation to ensure Victorians are given the best possible health care,” Ms Plibersek said.

“We will not stand by and allow Premier Baillieu’s politicking to hurt patients.

“This funding injection will go directly to frontline hospital administrators so they can immediately restore services shut down by the Baillieu government in recent months.”

Liberal candidate for Bendigo Greg Bickley said the cuts should never have been made. 

“These cuts were, as I said early in the year, disgraceful and callous,” he said. 

An angry Steve Gibbons refused to comment. 

Bendigo Health chief executive John Mulder had said the effect of the cuts, revealed last month, would severely impact patients. 

About $100,000 had been slashed from local mental health services and 24 beds forced to close, with the surgery waiting list tipped to hit 1500.

Mr Mulder had said the state government had also cut funding, but in a more planned manner. 

Ambulance Employees Australia secretary Steve McGhie welcomed last night’s announcement. 

“Paramedics have already started to feel the impacts of the cuts,” he said. 

“I know paramedics will be pleased with the federal government’s decision and it will ease some of the problems regarding the additional demand placed on them in recent weeks.

“It has tied up ambulances unnecessarily and made them unavailable for emergency response.”

State Health Minister David Davis said serious damage had been done to the state health system in a “punishing act”. 

“The federal Labor government knows their cuts were based on a lie – that Victoria’s population had decreased, and therefore hospital funding should,” he said. 

I pay particular tribute to the hospital boards, clinicians, and communities who fought for their hospitals and patients.”

But Ms Plibersek said the Victorian government had additional GST revenue that could have negated the cuts, but wasn’t used for that purpose. 

She said Mr Baillieu had failed to manage the state’s health system. 

A total of $55 million will be taken from other funding for the state reaching productivity measures to partly pay for the reinstatement. 

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