Wednesday 5 October 2011

Cairns Base Hospital funding issue just wont go away

Cairns Base Hospital short changed with fewer specialists than Townsville's hospital

Damon Guppy
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
© The Cairns Post

Critical departments at Cairns Base Hospital are operating with half the number of specialists as their Townsville counterparts, according to a survey released by senior public sector doctors.

The Cairns Physicians Group said its investigation into full-time staff numbers at the two hospitals highlighted the disparity in key health services between the cities.

The biggest gaps existed in departments such as cardiology, neurology, rheumatology and gastroenterology. Queensland Health last night disputed the difference in specialist numbers but the department was unable to provide comparative data.

The physicians group said the figures were collected from counterparts in key positions at the two hospitals. Spokesman Dr Peter Boyd said despite the State Government’s claim that the region’s health district had received a 20 per cent boost in its latest Budget, critical departments were still short-staffed because of lack of funding.

He said the differences in staff numbers between Cairns and Townsville’s hospitals, which had similar-sized populations to serve, would equate to a gap in medical care. "It is clear that the Townsville Hospital has in most areas at least twice the number of specialists providing services at the hospital," Dr Boyd said.

"This means that the people of Townsville have better access to medical specialist care.
"Our argument is not with Townsville, who have only what is fair and reasonable. "My question is, why are the people of Cairns missing out?"

The Cairns Physicians Group, which comprises public doctors, has argued that Cairns Base Hospital should be included in the top tier of the funding model alongside Townsville. Dr Boyd said elevating the hospital to the top tier would result in a $50 million funding boost, more than enough to pay for the specialists needed.

"It is reasonable, in the absence of any Queensland Health-developed benchmarks, that Cairns hospital should benchmark itself in most areas against Townsville, given the identical catchment populations," he said.

Queensland Health said the funding difference between the cities was based on data which showed that Cairns recorded 30 per cent less activity than Townsville.The hospital’s executive team has said the health district is fully funded and that some of the specialist staff issues were the result of a nationwide skills shortage. But Dr Boyd said that departments were working under extreme pressure to provide quality treatment. "I hope and pray that myself and a number of specialist colleagues will not burn out trying to provide the same services in Cairns with much fewer resources," he said.
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