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Budget papers show health jobs to be axed

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Nearly 2000 health jobs are set to be axed in South Australia over the next two and a half years, according to the State Government’s mid-year budget review, but the Treasurer insists they are COVID-related positions that will no longer be needed.

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The budget papers show the “health and wellbeing” public sector workforce, excluding the ambulance service, will be slashed from 33,313 in June 2021 to 31,449 in June 2024 – a loss of 1864 jobs.

It’s projected to rise again slightly to 31,534 in June 2025.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said that will still be nearly 1000 more jobs than in Labor’s last budget in 2018, which had 30,619 health employees.

Unions and the State Opposition are demanding to know which positions will be cut over the next two and a half years – prompting accusations from the Premier that Labor is “scaremongering”.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation state secretary Elizabeth Dabars said “in the current situation you could not lose a single person”.

“At a time when our healthcare workers are fatigued and overstressed, the Marshall Government needs to explain which jobs are to be cut from our health system,” Dabars said.

“What we’d like to call for is transparency and for them to identify very clearly what, if any, frontline workers are they proposing to lose and why that is the case.

“I suspect that they would say that these are potentially COVID-related. But that’s the point. Are they indeed COVID-related or is there some other plan or some other concept that we are unaware of?

“They really do need to be transparent about what their plans are.”

SA Salaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland said SA hospitals were already understaffed relative to the rest of the nation.

“The truth is that there is a lack of resourcing and the decisions of Government has placed us in this position,” she said.

“South Australians deserve a well-resourced public hospital system.”

Mulholland said SASMOA had calculated that SA hospitals would need to employ an extra nearly 5000 workers “to achieve the national average”.

“Any future government, after the next state election, needs to commit to resourcing our public hospitals to the same as other states in terms of staff, funding and beds,” she said.

“This needs to be the priority for the next election.

“If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we need a well-resourced public health system for the SA community. The focus needs to be on patient care not budget cuts.”

Opposition health spokesman Chris Picton said the job cuts were “buried within” the Government’s mid-year budget review.

“What that spells out in black and white is that this Government is planning a reduction of 1864 staff in SA Health over the next two and a half years,” he said.

“At a time that the borders are opening why this Government thinks it’s a good idea to cut 1800 staff over two and half years is absolutely shocking for South Australians.”

Picton said “even more shocking” was that the cuts would start “within the next seven months”.

“The Government makes clear in the budget papers that by the middle of next year – only seven months away – there will be a reduction in 600 staff…” he said.

The document shows employee numbers are projected to fall from 33,313 in June this year to 32,682 in June next year.

“This is very different from the television advertisements that they are putting out at the moment,” Picton said.

“We’ve got taxpayer-funded ads telling people they’re hiring 1900 staff for health. At the same time their own budget papers say they’re cutting 1864 staff.

“We know at the moment we are facing an absolute crisis in our hospitals and that’s with only a very small number of patients with COVID in our hospital system.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas told InDaily the jobs to be cut were temporary extra staff hired to help the state cope with COVID, such as in vaccination and testing clinics and quarantine facilities.

“There’s certainly a significant reduction from the surge in employment that we’ve put in as a result of COVID,” he said.

“By the end of the forward estimates period we will still have almost 1000 full time equivalents more than Labor employed in health and wellbeing.

“But during the pandemic… we’ve had to employ people in vaccination clinics, quarantine staff, all of the extra staff we’ve had to put in because of COVID… we’ve had to manage the COVID surge for a couple of years.

“As COVID finishes, those people who are on contracts or were temporary employees, all of those sorts of people no longer have ongoing employment, but we’re still left with almost 1000 more than under Labor’s last budget.”

Premier Steven Marshall said Labor was “scaremongering” and “undermining the confidence that people have in SA Health”.

“As people would know, take a look at what the Auditor-General has got to say – last year more than 1000 additional health professionals were put on in South Australia,” he said.

“Most recently we’ve announced a recruitment of 1920.

“You would have seen in the mid-year budget review yesterday a further very significant increase in expenditure to health, another eight doctors in the emergency department over at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, continuing to ramp up our support for SA Ambulance Service in SA with recruitment going on as we speak there, a very substantial increase to our workforce for the response to COVID, whether that be with our fantastic SA Health workers or of course SA Police.

“When we came to government, I’ll tell you what the budget for health was – $5.8 billion. It’s now $7.4 billion.”

Additional reporting – Stephanie Richards

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