Senior medical staff have hit out at a drive to save $11 million from the Cairns Base Hospital budget, saying the number crunching highlights why Cairns should be reclassified into a higher funding level.
The doctors say Cairns’ current second tier rating is holding the hospital back, adding that elevation to the top tier level would potentially allow a further $50 million to flow into hospital services. The Australian Medical Association Queensland has listed Cairns Base Hospital as one of the state’s health facilities at "breaking point", and jobs are on the line as the hospital tries to rein in spending.
Peter Boyd, president of the hospital’s Senior Medical Staff Association, said the hospital was desperately trying to save $11 million by freezing positions, not renewing temporary contracts and finding "positions to get rid of". " Right across the hospital anyone on a temporary contract is at risk," Dr Boyd said, despite budget increases this year. "Unless they respond by making us top tier, there will be constant stress in our budget," he told The Weekend Post.
They are spearheading the push to reclassify the Cairns funding model and have initiated an intense lobbying campaign, saying the region was being disadvantaged by a bureaucratic "line in the sand" that separates the city from the higher funding level. AMA Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd said hospitals like Cairns Base were trying to fix-up a hole in funding caused by Brisbane bureaucratic mismanagement, such as the bungled payroll system.
Cairns Base Hospital needed 158 beds today just to meet the national average of 2.6 beds per 1000 population, Dr Kidd said, so more medical staff were needed. "It’s just ludicrous they’re talking about cutting staff," Dr Kidd said, adding the AMA strongly supported greater funding for the hospital. The cuts could reduce services for patients, place more pressure on staff and being a regional centre it would be difficult to recruit later on.
Cairns anaesthetist and Together Union spokesman Dr Sandy Donald said the funding was not equitable and staff levels in some areas were already lower than hospitals in Brisbane, with similar patients numbers. "The district is financially desperate," he said. The SMSA is fighting for Cairns Base Hospital to be elevated to the top tier, which could potentially mean an additional $50 million in funding, and a boost to neurology, rheumatology and urology services, maternity and research among others. The state’s 10 main hospitals are split into two groups with more funding allocated to the top five. "We’re top of the second tier, we’re No.6," Dr Boyd said. "We’re arguing we’re closer to the top tier in terms of everything we do."
While the district was expected to receive more money for services when the federal activity-based funding was introduced in July, the tier system would remain and was "unfair". An arbitrarily line separated the tiers and SMSA want it redefined to include Cairns. Townsville Hospital is in the top tier – despite SMSA saying the population catchment area and workload was comparable to the Cairns district. "Our resources are demonstrably under-resourced for the same or more activity than Townsville in most areas," Dr Boyd said.
"Being officially regarded as top tier will bring more funding for more services and better health care available locally." Cairns and Hinterland Health Service District chief operating officer Robin Moore said the district had a 20 per cent or $90 million increase in its recent budget compared with the previous year. He denied a hiring freeze, saying it was "just the opposite". "While responsible management of health service costs is absolutely imperative, our budget has increased and with it we are adding extra staff and services."
However, Dr Boyd said budget increase was "catch up money" for services already provided and did not secure extra services such as another neurologist or rheumatologist. "So, despite a big budget increase on paper, we have to make savings which is odd isn’t it? It was understood if the hospital continued to spend at the rate it did last financial year it would go over the increased budget, so staff had been told $11 million needed to be saved to come within budget.
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