Sunday 14 August 2011

Queensland hospitals to limit outpatient visits to two per person to cut waiting lists, costs

Smart state, dumb government | Minister Lucas missing in action

  •  Suellen Hinde
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Source: The Sunday Mail (Qld)

Cancer patients and road-crash victims will be among thousands of Queenslanders restricted to two hospital outpatient visits under a secret plan by health bureaucrats to slash official waiting lists and costs.

The Sunday Mail can reveal that doctors and surgeons have been directed by Queensland Health to refer outpatients back to GPs after two visits.

The two-visit limit has outraged doctors who say it will severely impact patients requiring long-term care, particularly road trauma victims, cancer patients, those with spinal injuries and broken bones, as well as chronic care patients such as diabetics and epileptics.

More than 200 doctors and surgeons were given the edict at a special meeting at the Princess Alexandra Hospital earlier this month.

Doctors believe the PA Hospital is the first of many around the state to introduce the policy.

The Australian Medical Association yesterday claimed the move was a breach of the National Healthcare Agreement, which states that no one should be denied treatment in the public system.

Latest figures show that about 218,000 Queenslanders are on specialist outpatient waiting lists in the public system.

"They want us to treat new cases and not old ones," said one surgeon, who asked not to be named. "They want us to reduce the number of times we follow-up patients because they think this will solve the Queensland Health crisis.

"We are now having this limit imposed on us and it is not based on any data, it is simply a bureaucrat plucking a number out of the air."

The surgeon said some Queensland hospitals were being sued for failures in follow-up care.
Queensland Health director-general Dr Tony O'Connell said moving patients from the hospital to other health experts would mean shorter waiting lists.

"Trials have demonstrated large groups of patients can, in fact, be seen by a primary healthcare specialist, such as a GP or a physiotherapist, which frees up more specialist appointment time," he said.

Another surgeon said referring patients to GPs was a delaying tactic because it could "often take 12 months to get back into the public hospital from a GP referral".

Opposition regional health spokesman Andrew Laming - a registered eye surgeon and former public hospital outpatient specialist - said he had received several complaints from doctors.

"Capping outpatient clinics could have disastrous consequences for patients," Dr Laming said.

Doctors said the move was being driven by new complex funding arrangements that were to be implemented under national health reforms from July 1 next year.

The reforms will include a set number of procedures funded, after which no extra Federal Government funding will be forthcoming.

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