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Crossbenchers "surprised" after Libs shoot down health inquiry

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Ex-Liberal Troy Bell says he’s surprised his former colleagues have shot down a crossbench motion for a public inquiry into the ongoing impact of Transforming Health.

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Former Labor MP Frances Bedford – who now holds the north-east seat of Florey as an independent – moved in July to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the “benefits, costs and impacts of Transforming Health”.

At the time, Liberal Health Minister Stephen Wade told news website AdelaideNow the Government was “actively considering” supporting the inquiry because it would help rebuild the health system.

However, both major parties have shot down debate on the motion three times, including two divisions in which Bedford’s only backer was fellow crossbencher Geoff Brock – a former minister in the Weatherill Government that introduced Transforming Health.

However, Bell – a former Liberal who quit the party last year – says he wasn’t present when the divisions were called and would have voted for the inquiry if he had been.

“I support it,” he said today.

“I’m very surprised the motion wasn’t supported by the Government. You just look at EPAS, and how many hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent on that as part of the Transforming Health package… we need to make sure those mistakes are identified and, at the very least, not repeated.”

Wade said while the inquiry “was being actively considered by the party”, the Liberals “made the decision there were more effective ways of fixing Labor’s mess”.

“The Liberal Party has consistently said we’ve got more than enough data to show us the major flaws in Transforming Health,” he said today.

He said he opposed the parliamentary inquiry for the same reason he dismissed calls by the doctors’ union, SASMOA, and SA Best for a Royal Commission into the SA health system.

“We think the resources of the state are best focussed on looking forward at the way we can fix up Labor’s mess, rather than looking back on the problems of Transforming Health, which are abundantly clear for all to see,” he said.

He cited the downgrading of “the outer hospitals” – Modbury, the QEH and Noarlunga – as the major symptoms of the problem, saying: “We don’t believe the amount of time and effort or expense that a Royal Commission or parliamentary inquiry would take is the best way to deal with the issues.”

That’s despite the Government contracting KordaMetha to audit spending in the Central Adelaide Local Health Network.

“KordaMentha’s work is looking at how CALHN hospitals can be made more efficient – it’s not a remedy for Transforming Health,” he said.

“I’m more interested in fixing Labor’s mess.”

Bedford argues there is no issue with a parliamentary inquiry running concurrent to other internal reviews.

“I guess the problems still remain… something’s not working,” she said.

“[Patient] flow has been the problem.”

It comes as emergency department nurses at the Royal Adelaide and Flinders prepare to hold crisis meetings next week to address chronic overcrowding, with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation claiming ambulance ramping and overflowing EDs are creating an unsafe environment for patients and staff.

ANMF SA CEO Elizabeth Dabars said nurses at Flinders were this week reporting 107 patients in an ED with a capacity for 53.

“Now’s the time,” Bedford said.

“Everyone’s saying it’s not working… I know the system’s big, I know it’s hard – but it’s got to be able to be done better than this.

“I can’t believe this is the best SA can do for health.”

She agreed that the Royal Commission option was unsuitable, saying such inquiries were “clunky” and “take forever”.

“If you have to have a royal commission to make the health system work properly, we’re a very sad society,” she said.

“But what harm would it be to have a parliamentary inquiry running at the same time?

“Labor’s worried because it will smack them… maybe the Liberals are worried because they’re not moving fast enough… I don’t care who’s worried – I just want the answers.”

Labor Health spokesman Chris Picton said while the Opposition had not voted to support the motion, “essentially it’s up to the Government as to whether or not a committee like that proceeds”.

“It’s highly unusual for a committee to look into the last government, but if the [Liberal] Government – which has the numbers – decides they do want to set up such a committee, we’d obviously take part in it… and I’d use the opportunity to try and question to Liberals about their hospital plans and what they want to do, or not do.”

Brock said he too was surprised the Liberals had shot down the inquiry, given “all the hullaballoo before the election about how it wasn’t working”.

“Now there’s an opportunity to analyse how it’s going… I question how serious were they with their criticism before,” he said.

“All Frances is asking for is to have a review into how it’s gone.”

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