LOOKING FORWARD: Health Minister Michael Ferguson has reflected on the year in health and set out priorities for 2017. Health reporter Tamara McDonald sat down with Health Minister Michael Ferguson.
TM:Reflecting on 2016, what do you think we’ve done best in the health system and what do you think we’ve learnt from?
MF:I would like to reflect that 2016 has been a pivotal year in many respects in the government’sprogram to fix the broken health system and we’ve seen some key outcomes …We have a long way to go …but the plan is working. We’re seeing the record low waiting list for elective surgery …We’ve got some really exciting capital developments occurring right now at the LGH …One of the most significant policy outcomes has also been the rapid response service, which we’ve done in partnerships with local GPs… that together with our new extended care paramedic service, I think, is showing the signs of the directions that we set in 2015 starting to be delivered, helping people have a better life and a better experience in the health system.
TM: What about challenges faced in 2016?
MF:Challenges faced in 2016 certainly revolve around increasing demand. That’s growing at a rate which is very challenging for us, hence… the important need to provide stability and support to our emergency department, which we’re doing, with significant extra resources but also for the LGH, new leadership, which we’ve established this year. That was a very challenging episode but …we worked very closely with our hospital managers to stabilise that situation and to recruit to the vacant positions.
TM:How many of those positions have been filled?
MF: Well I would need to come back to you on the actual numbers.But there was clearly amisunderstanding in the community as to the level of people leaving the ED. If you look at the full time equivalents it was approximately three of approximately seven …there were people who for whatever different reasons have left their positions. We’re just so determined to work closely with the hospital management.
TM:How long is [Ward] 4D planned to be open?
MF:I’ve given a commitment that 4D, those beds that we reopened that were closed under the previous government, we’ve reopened them and they will be there for as long as required.
TM:Is there any possibility of them just being opened permanently?
MF:Effectively, that is what I’m doing. They are open, but we’re not going to staff a bed that’s empty. The issue here is that the beds will remain open. I’ve got advice that at times it’s been very useful to support the hospital with its patient flow, particularly through the winter we’ve just experienced, which was a busy winter, and the staff tell me it was greatly valued.
TM:In terms of replacing specialists that leave the LGH, what kinds of resources are being put into recruiting?
MF:Well if I can point to the ED as an example, we’ve actually put special energy into that. We’ve got a new permanent director of the emergency department …new leadership and fresh vigour in building the team. There is a specialist recruitment firm that we’ve engaged together with specialist Tasmanian based marketing materials so that potential candidates can see what kindof quality of life they can enjoy here.
TM:Big year for elective surgery. You often refer to the backlog that’s developed over a number of years. How close are we to clearing that?
MF:We will always retain a category-based system …but the great success has been with ourtargeting of the long-wait patients. The longest wait patient was 10 years, it’s now down to three … The good news is we’ve only done half of our program with more to come.
TM:Ongoing, in terms of outsourcing elective surgeries interstate, how much longer is that program?
MF:Well, that’s effectively come to a standstill, because the resources are being very heavily focused into our public hospitals. We’re talking about 2 per cent or less … choosing to use that interstate opportunity.
TM:Obviously the Mersey has been very topical recently, can I grab an update on those negotiations?
MF: It’s a Commonwealth owned and funded hospital, the Tasmanian Government’s very strong position is that should remain the case. We are indeed calling on the Commonwealth to support a continuation ofthe current arrangements with a 10-year time frame.
TM:Is there any sign of an outcome in the near future?
MF:So the negotiation period is formally set-down to still continue for another three months. We want a result as soon as possible, giving the longest possible certainty.
TM:Is there any plan to add acute mental health beds in public hospitals?
MF:I know that we recently had an unexpected increase in demand for acute mental health presentations. And that, of course, needs to be properly managed. If we can learn from some of those demand periods, then we certainly will. The answer to our mental health demand issue is to do exactly what theRethink Mental Health [plan] sets out and that is to provide increasing care in the community where people are provided with the support and it doesn’t get to the point thatthey require a hospital admission.
TM:Going into 2017, what are your top priorities?
MF:My top priorities are to continue to listen, both to our health professionals and to the Tasmanian community, about how we can continue the very positive path that we’ve already achieved …I want 2017 to be a year of continuing to listen, but essentially, continuing to implement our White Paper. A new focus on the outpatient waiting list, for example endocrinology, which is still under served in the North, and I want to see the THS … clinical management structure coming into place in the new year.
TM:Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MF:I’m just so grateful for the community providing me and the government the opportunity to fix the broken health system. The health systemI want is the health system that I’d be happy for my mother or my father or my wife or my children [to use].
This interview was edited for length
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.