SUBJECTS: Tasmanian and Federal Labor’s plan to cut hospital waiting lists.

REBECCA WHITE, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, TASMANIA: Thank you for coming today, and for listening to Judy’s story. Her story is a story of somebody who has been forced to wait unnecessary amounts of time to access surgery that will improve her life. Right now, she is living in pain. She has lost her independence. She is unable to go about those things that she would love to do every single day, like care for her grandchild and look after those other people in her life around her. But, she’s stuck in her house. She has been waiting for surgery now for ten months. This is surgery that should have been provided within a clinical timeframe of three months. There is no doubt that when Michael Ferguson talks about elective surgery waiting lists being low, he is ignoring the people like Judy, and other people across Tasmania, who have a completely different experience. People like Judy are the human face of the cost of cutting the health system. When this government came to power in 2014, they cut $210 million out of health. The Turnbull-Abbott government cut $1.1 billion out of health in Tasmania. And the consequence is that people like Judy are missing out on access to the necessary care they need to have a good quality of life. Judy’s story, unfortunately, isn’t unique, but it is an example of the impacts that cuts to the health system are having on everyday Tasmanians. That’s why Labor has made health our number one priority. It’s why we will invest an extra $75 million to provide more outpatient appointments - an extra 15,000 appointments - to tackle the fact that there are 30,000 people right now waiting on the outpatient waiting list for an appointment to see a specialist. And that $75 million will also provide more elective surgeries. And, in partnership with the Federal Government, who the Federal Labor Party have made a commitment of $30 million to provide 3,000 more surgeries in Tasmania, so that people just like Judy can access the essential healthcare that they need so that they can have a quality life and live without pain and make sure that they can participate in the sort of daily activities that many of us take for granted; like caring for children, volunteering in our community, and being able to drive to the shops so that they can pick up the groceries. I’ll ask Tanya now, to say a few words about the Federal Labor commitment.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks so much, Bec, and, it’s incredibly brave of Judy to share her story. But she was doing it not just for herself  but for all of the people who are languishing on the waiting lists here in Tasmania. We see waiting lists in Tasmania, well waiting times are some of the worst in the country. If you look at, for example, hip replacements, it’s five times worse than the national average. Knee replacements are six times worse than the national average. Cataract surgery, eight times worse than the national average, and hysterectomies ten times worse than the national average. And, it is shocking that Tasmanians are waiting for as long as they are for elective surgery. And that’s why, when Labor was last in Government federally, when I was the Health Minister, we put $30 million into a really significant effort to get waiting times down in Tasmania. And, that’s why, if we are elected federally, we will put another $30 million on the table to halve waiting lists around Tasmania. In the North West that means waiting lists of over 600 people at the moment, getting those lists down by 300 people. People, like Judy, who have been waiting too long for their surgery. The impact that this is having on Judy’s life – someone who’s used to helping people and looking after people, instead, relying on her family to look after her – in constant pain, unable to get out independently. It’s just untold misery, those human stories behind those thousands of people; 30,000 people on waiting lists around Tasmania. It really is a huge difference that it makes to those people’s lives, quite unacceptable. Thanks Bec.

WHITE: I’m happy to take any questions on this and other issues of the day.

JOURNALIST: I guess in regards to Judy’s situation, what support has the Opposition provided?

WHITE: Judy contacted our office last year. So she was first referred for surgery in May last year, and was told at that stage that it would be three months before an appointment could be provided, which is consistent with the clinical timeframes. In August last year, Judy realised she wasn’t going to be provided with her elective surgery procedure within the clinically recommended timeframe. In October, I wrote to Minister Michael Ferguson, highlighting Judy’s issue, and asking when a date could be provided for her to have surgery. As of today, I have not received a response from Minister Michael Ferguson about Judy’s example – experience – in the health system. This is extraordinary. Writing to the Minister in October last year on behalf of Judy, asking when she might get a date for an appointment, and, still today the Minister hasn’t responded. It just shows the lack of regard that Minister Michael Ferguson has for people like Judy, and their need to get access to this type of procedure in the Tasmanian heath system. Remembering that, last year, we did lose the only permanent neurologist in the north of the state that serviced the north and the North West of the state. The loss of specialists like that from Tasmania is because of Michael Ferguson’s ignorance. He failed to engage with that specialist, who was seeking to talk to the Minister about how he might remain employed in Tasmania, and Michael Ferguson refused to talk to him about that. We lost that neurologist. That position hasn’t been replaced, which means that the waiting list blows out for people just like Judy, who are waiting to get an appointment with a neurologist for her surgery.

JOURNALIST: What will the Labor party be doing to attract in the specialists that we need?

WHITE: We’ve made a really big commitment to health, providing an extra $75 million for more outpatient appointments, which will provide an extra 15,000 appointments for Tasmanians. The outpatient waiting list is at 30,000 right now, so we’re seeking to halve that. We’ll provide more elective surgery procedures as well, both in partnership with Federal Labour, but also independent of that we’ll be able to provide more elective surgery procedures from the first year of a Labor majority government. We will also work to recruit more permanent specialists to the Tasmanian health system. We spent $27.5 million on locums just the last financial year. That money would be better directed to employing permanent specialists to work in Tasmania and provide continuity of care for patients and a better health system for all Tasmanians. The way that we recruit those specialists is by offering an attractive place to work. Right now, the workplace culture across the Tasmanian health system has been negatively impacted by Michael Ferguson and the Liberal Government’s cuts. They aren’t feeling like they are respected by this government. Their concerns, when they’ve raised them, have been ignored. We’ve lost accreditation at the Royal and the Launceston General Hospital for two different specialties. We’ve lost specialist doctors, and they have left because they have been ignored by this Government when they’ve raised concerns that are legitimate and they’ve proposed solutions. But, this Government has failed to acknowledge them and take them up on their offer to work together to find a better way to deliver health for all Tasmanians.

JOURNALIST: Realistically, how do you convince specialists that this is a good place to work, when, probably, everything that they read is about a system in crisis?

WHITE: We have to completely change the workplace culture in Tasmania. We have to make sure we’ve got a good governance system that supports doctors to make clinical decisions at a hospital level. So that they are empowered to make decisions day to day about what happens for the care they give patients. Centralising hospital decision-making in Launceston has been a complete failure. Even the Minister has acknowledged that and said that he has no confidence in the CEO, in the governance arrangement with the Council. Yet, that system remains in place today, because he has failed to address that problem when he was the Minister. There can be no doubt improving the governance arrangements, providing a better workplace culture, empowering our clinicians to make decisions about what happens in the hospital every day, are all ways that we can help attract people to work in the Tasmanian health system. We have a wonderful health workforce here who are working incredibly hard every single day to provide good quality care for Tasmanians. But they’re not being supported by the Minister or by this Liberal government.

JOURNALIST: Liberals have proposed a change to the structure of the THS, would yours look the same or different?

WHITE: We proposed, in May last year, a change to the government’s arrangements for the Tasmanian Health System, which the Liberal government at the time dismissed. Then they adopted the exact same changes in December last year, but, have failed to implement those changes, because they didn’t recall the parliament to effect the legislative change that would give the new framework effect. They could have done that. If they were serious about improving Tasmania’s health governance, they could have recalled the parliament in January this year to fix this mess. But, instead what we’ve got is a circumstance where you’ve got a CEO and a governing Council that the minister has said he has no confidence, but who are still the authority managing the health system. So, they’ve got no ability to effect the changes needed, because they don’t hold the confidence of the Minister or the health professionals. We would move to provide a new governance structure that empowers the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary to have oversight over the whole health system. We remain committed to Tasmania having one health system, but we would empower local decision-making at a hospital level so that clinicians can make decisions about day-to-day activities that occur on the ground concerning their patients and the best outcomes for their patients.

JOURNALIST: The government’s routinely, I guess, backed its ability to bring down waiting times for elective surgery, at least recently. I guess, after hearing the story today, they’re clearly not doing good enough?

WHITE: This government has failed on health. They have cut the health system. What they’re not telling people is that people can’t even get on the waiting list to have elective surgery. That’s why the outpatient waiting list is 30,000 people long. They have failed to properly invest in the Tasmanian health system. And, indeed, their own government report, released just last week, shows that there are now 500 more people waiting for elective surgery in Tasmania than there was three months ago. They can’t con Tasmanians anymore. You talk to people like Judy, hear her story and how she’s been forced to wait, perhaps for another 18 months, before she can get access to the surgery she needs. Then, people start to realise that this Liberal government’s cuts have impacted on our ability to deliver appropriate healthcare to Tasmanians, and it’s just not good enough.

JOURNALIST: Do you have targets for elective surgery waiting times?

WHITE: Obviously we aim to provide elective surgery within the clinically recommended timeframes, which are set out with the agreements between state and federal governments. That’s our ambition, to make sure that people can access the same procedures here in Tasmania as if they were in Victoria or New South Wales or Queensland. We want all Tasmanians to have access to the same quality health care here in Tasmania that they would have if they lived in any other state.

[Remainder of doorstop on State issues]