Greater access to health services: Ferguson

State Health Minister Michael Ferguson. Picture: Jason Hollister.More North-West patients than ever before will have access to specialist services close to home with the creation of one state-wide health system.

There is absolutely no doubt that our current health system is broken, and North-West Tasmanians suffer from the many faults of the system more than most.

Our doctors, nurses, medical professionals and support staff do a fantastic job but they too fight against a system which simply does not support the best possible results for patients.

Dedicated and skilled North-West health professionals like Dr Deborah Hickling, Dr Marielle Ruigrok, senior surgeons working on the Coast and many others strongly believe in the need for building better services and have helped guide these reforms and what needs to be done.The Hodgman Liberal Government is committed to fixing the broken health system, and that is why the health White Paper exposure draft released this week has outlined a range of new specialist services to be delivered on the North-West.

Unlike previous attempts to change or reform health services on the North-West, the changes we propose will bring to the North-West a range of specialist services which are long overdue to be delivered locally.

Because of the addition to the North-West of specialist clinics, consultations and pre and post-operative care, as well as the dedicated elective surgery centre at the Mersey, we expect 1000 fewer patients every year will have to travel from the North-West to Launceston and Hobart to receive treatment.

This is because complex services that need to be centralised for safety reasons are those that are currently offered to very low numbers of people in the North-West. It is expected that around 400 people have these procedures in Burnie each year. On the other hand, there are around 1500 North-West patients who currently travel away from home for elective day surgery, consultations and pre and post-op care which could be delivered locally under these reforms.

Fewer people needing to travel away from the North-West for treatment means more resources to support those that do need to access complex services based in Launceston or Hobart. We certainly understand the importance of this support, particularly for pensioners and those less able to face these expenses. Over the next three months as the White Paper is finalised we will be working closely with stakeholders and the community, particularly people on the North-West, on strengthening patient transport and accommodation support.

There is a long list of services which we recommend can now be provided on the North-West.

It includes radiation therapy in Burnie for cancer patients, rheumatology, pain management, specialist geriatrics and neurology clinics with support from visiting specialists from the LGH and RHH. New services will be introduced at the Mersey, delivering new rehabilitation services, mental health services (including support for drug and alcohol dependencies), geriatric services, and palliative care.

Additionally, the Mersey Community Hospital will become Tasmania’s dedicated Elective Day Surgery Centre, delivering a range of elective day surgeries, including some which are not currently available at all on the North-West, for patients from all around the state who currently are waiting far too long for treatment.

Where the Mersey Community Hospital has for many years operated as a local hospital with ongoing uncertainty about its future, the Exposure Draft of the White Paper spells out a clear and important long-term role for it in the statewide health system.

Every day in Tasmania around 12 patients have their elective surgery procedure cancelled. With the Mersey having a dedicated focus on elective day surgery cases, we willreduce these occurrences, which will both reduce patients’ frustration and unnecessary travel time and costs, and help to bring down the unacceptable elective surgery waiting lists in Tasmania.

Naturally, there has been a lot of interest in the complex surgical services which the Exposure Draft of the White Paper proposes should only be provided from the Launceston General Hospital or Royal Hobart Hospital.

Evidence shows that, for many high complexity services, outcomes are better when larger volumes of service are provided – that is, if it is done more often, the quality and efficiency of the service improves.

We certainly don’t believe it is in the interests of patients in any regional area of Tasmania to be booked in for complex surgery at the nearest hospital, if we know that surgery is performed more safely and with better chance of success at a larger hospital.

Therefore a small range of highly complex surgical procedures such as complex ear, nose and throat surgery (eg. complex throat cancer) and upper gastrointestinal surgery, which are currently being performed at the NWRH, will need to occur at a higher level facility. We cannot ignore the clear evidence that surgeries of that complexity should not be carried out at the low volumes which occur at the NWRH.

In the consultation on the Green Paper which took place over summer, the feedback from patients and clinicians on the North West was pivotal in helping us understand the types of services which haven’t been available but are now proposed to be introduced.

As a state we can’t underestimate the importance of delivering on the changes proposed in the draft White Paper. In the coming weeks and months I will be travelling around the state continuing what is already the most open and honest conversation a Tasmanian government has ever had with the community about the flaws and shortcoming in our broken health system, and seeking Tasmanians’ input in determining how best to implement the decisions set out in the Exposure Draft.

I encourage all North-West Tasmanians to again participate in the consultation process around the White Paper so we can ensure that all Tasmanians have access to safer, better health services.

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