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Jobs being cut from WCH amid health crisis: Labor

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Nearly 40 jobs will be cut from the stretched Women’s and Children’s Hospital, as part of 371 health positions axed in the State Budget, the Opposition claims.

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Labor says the job cuts are set to come into force from next week, as the hospital’s overcrowding crisis peaked last night with emergency department capacity reaching 250 per cent.

The State Government has hit back at the claims, saying the health positions being axed were never permanent staff but rather temporary extra workers employed during the pandemic.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas this morning said “it is deeply concerning that further examination of the budget papers has revealed that what we’re seeing is a cut to our health system both in terms of dollars but also in terms of people”.

He said 371 people would be “removed from health jobs in our health system starting next week” – including 39 from the Women’s and Children’s.

“That simply makes absolutely no sense whatsoever at a time when our health system is in crisis,” he said.

“That’s less people, less resources going into the women’s and kids’ at a time that we’re seeing demand extraordinarily high in our health system.

“You don’t fix ramping by cutting staff and cutting funding.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas said “we always end up employing more than we budget”.

“There are 800 (health staff) employed this year more than we budgeted last year so that number is going to be increased anyway,” he said.

“The second issue is inevitably as we go over the COVID peak some of those people employed in short term contacts… won’t be needed anymore.”

Lucas said for example it was hoped the extra staff employed in COVID testing centres and vaccination clinics “are either going to be significantly reduced or hopefully we don’t need them anymore”.

He was unaware if 39 jobs were set to go from the Women’s and Children’s.

“I don’t believe everything that Peter Malinauskas claims,” he said.

“He’s claiming we’ve cut health. We are spending $900 million a year more on health than he spent in their last budget when he was the minister for health.

“We are employing 1000 more staff in health than he employed when he was the minster for health in 2017-18.

“We are employing 258 more ambulance officers than he employed when he was the minister for health.

“I say to Peter Malinauskas: ‘Give us a break. We don’t believe everything you’re claiming. We are spending much more on health than you ever did and we don’t believe every claim you make’.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the government had continually promised that “no doctor or nurse will be sacked as a result of savings outlined in the budget”.

“Full time equivalent (FTE) estimates in budget papers are an accounting measure; they are not a target; they simply indicate broader planned efficiencies and express them in terms of FTE,” he said.

“Every year under the Marshall Government, our health workforce has increased.”

The Treasurer yesterday announced a $1.95 billion price tag for the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital but revealed its opening date had been pushed out to 2027, raising concerns about how the existing hospital will cope until then.

Leading obstetrician Associate Professor John Svigos wants a guarantee from the government that the existing hospital will not be neglected in the meantime.

“There are two simultaneous actions required by the government and SA Health, firstly to fix the women’s and children’s health crisis that already exists at the current WCH and secondly, to re-examine and solve the multiple deficiencies in the proposed new WCH,” he said in a letter to InDaily.

Svigos said the current hospital “falls far short of an acceptable standard for the women and children of this state, and will now need to be adhered to until at least 2027”.

He echoed concerns from the doctors’ union that while the new hospital will have a much bigger emergency department, it will have only one extra overnight paediatric bed to admit sick children.

Wade said the government wouldn’t let the current hospital “go to rack and ruin” while planning for the new hospital progressed.

“We will continue to invest in the current Women’s and Children’s Hospital so South Australian children continue to receive high quality care in an up-to-date facility while we build the new hospital,” he said.

Labor said despite the government’s claims that the health cuts were a result of an increase in temporary jobs during the pandemic, the 371 jobs were being cut from Local Health Networks and did include contact tracers and medi-hotel staff.

The budget also included $163.5 million for mental health, including a new 16-bed crisis centre to be built in Adelaide’s north and eight extra psychiatric intensive care beds.

But it fell well short of what mental health advocates and clinicians wanted, prompting the man who sparked intense focus on the sector in recent months to lash out.

John Mendoza – who resigned in protest at a lack of government action earlier this year from his post as executive director of mental health and prison health services at the Central Adelaide Local Health Network – said there was “no strategy, no coherence”.

“It will not resolve ED wait times or other chronic issues,” he said on Twitter.

“The Treasurer said ‘mental health will be a central plank of SA Budget’.

“Looks like a termite ridden plank from the dump.”

Lucas said the mental health package was supported by Chief Psychiatrist Dr John Brayley.

“We are taking advice from people still working within the system,” he said.

“There will always be some advocates like John Mendoza and others who will say it’s not enough and we need more.

“The reality is that the government has made a very significant investment in mental health and we’ll see some significant improvements in terms of what we’re offering.”

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