Federal hospitals takeover

A FEDERAL takeover of the ailing public hospital system is among the options in a top-level draft report before the Federal Government.

Pressure on the Federal Government to act on the matter increased as specialist doctors providing care to more than 200,000 people across the west of NSW threatened to walk off the job at 5pm today unless hospital management assured them they would be paid on time.

Visiting medical officers at Orange, Dubbo and Bathurst are angry they have not been paid since October, forcing some to borrow money from family and friends to survive. Others have taken out loans or dipped into their mortgages.

Yesterday the state Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, said an urgent $1.8 million payroll would be put through overnight.

He refused to rule out a takeover of health by the Federal Government. "It’s not for me to rule in or out anything. In the end the people will decide that.

"What we need is better collaboration [between the governments] and we’re getting that."

The Greater Southern Area Health Service apologised to the family of a man, 24, who died in St Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday after being discharged a day earlier from Griffith Base Hospital.

Mr Della Bosca admitted a $40 million cash injection given to the struggling Greater Western Area Health Service to pay off its overdue creditors was taken out of next year’s budget. "Internal arrangements from one budget to the next are often made by departments and area health services. The important thing is, there was $60 million of creditors when I took over as health minister; that’s down to $23 million a couple of days ago; it will be down to $10 million in a month."

The Federal Opposition demanded that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, make good his pre-election threat to fix the system or seek a mandate to take it over. Mr Rudd promised before the election to hold a referendum at the 2010 election on a federal takeover should the states fail to meet performance benchmarks by the middle of this year.

On taking power Mr Rudd set up a Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to examine ways to reform the system. The commission’s interim report, given to Mr Rudd and the Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, before Christmas, and to be published on February 16, canvasses a federal takeover and other options.

It is an option to be considered in the second term of the Rudd Government and one that would be expensive, bureacratic and politically difficult, the report is understood to say.

The commission will issue its final report in July but the Opposition said that was too long to wait. "There’s no sense giving good money after bad to NSW Health," said the Opposition health spokesman, Peter Dutton.

Ms Roxon said fixing the system was difficult after "12 years of neglect" but there was no need yet to consider a federal takeover.

Last year the Federal Government gave NSW an extra $20 billion for health over the next five years, including more for hospitals and elective surgery.

Ms Roxon said: "The Prime Minister and I made clear to all states at the time – including NSW – the Commonwealth and the Australian people expect to see results in improvements to our health and hospitals system."

Mr Della Bosca said two secret government reports that showed the health budget would be overblown by $900 million by March were "simply wrong". NSW had a "transparent health system", he said, but he admitted he had not seen the reports and refused to make them public as they were confidential cabinet documents.