Tasmania’s health system under pressure as federal funding dries up

There are concerns gaps are being left in Tasmania’s health system after a large Commonwealth cash injection dried up at the end of June.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie secured the $325 million Tasmanian Health Assistance Package in 2012.

It included money for palliative care, as well as elective surgery, mental health and emergency departments, but the money ran out on June 30.

Palliative Care Tasmania was one of the services funded by the package.

It offered support and training on end-of-life care to more than 13,000 Tasmanians in the past 18 months.

General manager Colleen Johnstone said Tasmania’s ageing population and high rate of complex chronic diseases meant end-of-life planning was particularly important in the island state.

“Because by doing that, it helps alleviate pressure from ambulance services, from hospital emergency rooms and from ICU units,” she said.

Palliative Care Tasmania has already started laying off staff and has closed its Devonport office.

“The service will cease completely, I’ll be closing our Launceston office and our Hobart office as well,” Ms Johnstone said.

“And there is no other organisation in this state that can provide the type of education and training that we do.”

The organisation is lobbying the Federal Government for $500,000 a year so it can continue to operate.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz said he was trying to secure the funding.

“I have been in communication with the Health Minister’s office about that and it’s still a work in progress,” he said.

Even if the service secures funding under the National Palliative Care Project Program, the money would not flow until the middle of next year.

Other services affected by end of funding package

The impact of end of the Tasmanian Health Assistance Package is flowing on to other services.

Colleen Johnstone said she understood some positions have been lost at the Specialist Palliative Care Service which provides end-of-life care.

Neroli Ellis from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said the ramifications were more widespread.

“We’ve been raising concerns for a long period of time about the cessation of the Tasmanian Health Assistance Package,” she said.

“We’re seeing some services continue while the money’s used up, but there seems to be no clear plan in regards to what’s going to happen to those services once that money is finished.

“Our Emergency Medical Units etcetera are running within existing budgets so the health service has to find additional money to keep those extra services open at the moment.”

Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson was not detailing what practical effect the end of the funding would have on services.

“The Tasmanian Health Assistance Package was a very wide-ranging health assistance package, it reflected cuts the previous Labor-Green government had made to health,” he said.

“We are stepping into the breach and you will see that the Tasmanian Government is sustaining health services … even though we have now gone past July 1.”

Mr Ferguson said state-funded palliative services would continue.