Waiting times at Ballina Hospital’s emergency department are too long and the state government is to blame for ripping up to $3 billion in funding out of the health department. That was the message of shadow health minister Walt Secord and Ballina Labor candidate Paul Spooner when they visited the hospital yesterday.
In addition, Mr Secord criticised the federal government for failing to honour its promise to provide $4.5 million to upgrade the hospital’s emergency department, an extra operating theatre and expand its medical imaging department.
Last month Echonetdaily reported that federal funding to upgrade the hospital’s antiquated and overcrowded emergency department – the result of an election promise by Page Nationals MP Kevin Hogan – would still leave the community short, according to Ballina mayor David Wright.
Mr Wright called on the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) to make up the shortfall but CEO Chris Crawford said any extra funding would have to come from the commonwealth.
Yesterday Mr Secord and Mr Spooner said state cuts had placed pressure on Ballina Hospital and its emergency department with one in four patients waiting longer than four hours for treatment.
This was below the national benchmark for standards in Australian hospital emergency departments.
Last week, data from the independent Bureau of Health Information showed 915 out of 3,659 patients had to wait longer than four hours for treatment between July and September this year.
‘This means that one in four patients waited longer than four hours to receive treatment at Ballina hospital,’ Mr Secord said.
‘This is what happens when you tear $3 billion from the health system; patients wait longer in emergency departments.’
‘Local families depend on Ballina Hospital when they are sick but they are being forced to wait longer and longer to access emergency departments under the Baird National-Liberal Government.’
But, as Echonetdaily pointed out, Ballina Hospital is not the only one on the north coast to have long emergency waiting times. It’s times are similar to the Tweed Hospital (76 per cent) and actually better than Lismore Base Hospital, where just 68 per cent of patients were seen within the four-hour benchmark during the same period.
Labor has yet to make an election promise about the hospital but Mr Secord said he was looking forward to doing so ‘in the coming months’.
Mr Spooner said: ‘Labor is committed to the public health system, whereas the Nationals want to privatise health services and take us down the American health care path.’
‘Every minute counts in an emergency and for a quarter of all patients to be waiting more than four hours at Ballina Hospital is unacceptable and falls short of what is required.’
‘Ballina is a key hospital in the north coast serving a growing population – and it needs investment, not funding cuts from the federal and state Nationals.
‘Mike Baird has cut $3 billion from health over the past three years. The Abbott budget slashed another $15 billion – and now the Nationals want to pile on a $5 GP tax that will just see thousands more people showing up at already stretched emergency departments,’ Mr Spooner said.
Last week it was revealed the NNSWLHD is considering cutting staff at Nimbin’s multi-purpose medical centre in the new year.