Health Department cuts are expected in Western Australia’s next budget, according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA), which has been told to prepare for the changes.
A high-powered committee is looking at ways to rein in Health Department spending, including significant structural change.
The AMA said it had been told by the Minister to expect the worst in next year’s budget.
“We’ve been told to prepare for cuts in the health system,” AMA state president Michael Gannon said.
“We’re worried about the next health budget. We’re worried the Government’s got less money coming in.
“If the iron ore price continues to fall down that’s a huge part of their revenue.”
He said there was no room for further cuts to the health budget without compromising patient care.
“All businesses have inefficiencies and we should look for efficiencies wherever they can be found,” he said.
“The problem is when we look to hospitals we’re pretty much cut to the bone already and we don’t want patient care threatened.
“What we’re concerned about is that direct patient care can’t be cut too much further without having problems of getting patients safely out of hospital.”
He said there had already been cuts to the workforce at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and a reconfiguration of services from Fremantle and Royal Perth hospitals to the new Fiona Stanley Hospital had meant further cuts to some areas.
“There’s not much room for further cuts without significantly impacting on the system,” Dr Gannon said.
High-powered committee to find cost savings
The Government has been quietly embarking on a review of the entire Health Department to find ways to rein in costs.
Every area is being scrutinised by a high-powered committee that includes the heads of Health, Premier and Cabinet, and the acting under-treasurer.
A former secretary of the Victorian health department has been hired to provide expert advice.
“It is a massive structure so we’re looking at how the structure works,” Health Minister Kim Hames said.
The Government will spend about $8 billion on health this financial year, which is almost a third of its total budget.
Dr Hames said hospital services were more expensive in WA and costs needed to come down closer to the national average.
He would not confirm if he had privately flagged cuts to health in his discussions with the AMA, and referred all budget questions to the Treasurer.
The Opposition’s health spokesman, Roger Cook, said the health system was broken and the Government had run out of solutions.
“When you have a situation when we’re spending more on health but delivering poorer outcomes for patients, that is a crisis situation,” he said.
“This is a sign that the Government’s admitting that the system is broken.
“What this committee has been set up to do is to resolve the issues around the fact we’re spending more on health but we’re not getting the results the community expects.
“We’re waiting longer for ambulances, we’re waiting in ambulances to get into EDs, we’re waiting longer to see our specialists.
“They’ve lost policy focus and simply don’t have an answer for how we get a better result for the taxpayer dollars.”