Better ambulance service early focus for new Health Minister Jill Hennessy

Victoria’s new Health Minister Jill Hennessy has warned that federal budget cuts to hospitals will be “severe” in coming years and that working with the Abbott government on health funding will be “challenging”.

In her first appearance as Health Minister, Ms Hennessy said her initial focus would be on improving the ambulance service and delivering on a promised audit of hospital beds.

But she said she had also asked for the Victorian health department to brief her on the impact of the federal government’s cuts to the state’s health system over the next decade.

“We haven’t been fully briefed on what the impact will be in operational terms on the health system, but we know that it will be severe,” she said. “I have certainly asked the department to provide a proper briefing about the impact.”

In May, the Napthine government accused the Commonwealth of planning to cut about $20 billion from health and education funding to Victoria over the next 10 years, however the precise impact on Victoria’s health system remains unclear.  

As Premier Daniel Andrews announced he had reached “full agreement” with the paramedics union about their enterprise bargaining agreement, and had asked the Fair Work Commission to independently value their pay increase, Ms Hennessy said she was “delighted and honoured” to become the Minister for Health and Ambulance Services.

Ms Hennessy said she was looking forward to participating in Council of Australian Governments debates and dealing with state commonwealth relations over health funding, but said: “That is going to be a big challenge”.

Mr Andrews also announced that the board of Ambulance Victoria had resigned, paving the way for new leadership of the beleaguered organisation.

Honouring his promise to refer the paramedics pay claim to the independent umpire, Mr Andrews said he had already instructed the interim chief executive of AV, Andrew Way, to meet the union and arrange a joint application to the commission.

“I’ll be working with paramedics, not against them,” he said at Frankson Hospital.

Earlier this week, secretary of the paramedics’ union Steve McGhie said the union and new government agreed on about 95 per cent of matters aside from pay in the enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations.

Mr Andrews thanked all nine members of the AV board, including chairwoman Linda Sorrell, who offered their resignations in a “dignified” manner.

Mr Andrews said dismissing the board was designed to bring about “powerful cultural change to make sure we start respecting our ambos again and that we bring about the improvements in response-time performance”.