Funding cuts loom and patients continue to struggle, state budget reveals

The Age: Funding cuts loom and patients continue to struggle, state budget reveals. May 10, 2014. Farrah Tomazin. The Sunday Age’s state political editor.

A quarter of emergency patients are not being treated on time, about one in four ambulances are failing to meet targets for life-threatening incidents and a third of mentally ill Victorians can’t find a hospital bed within eight hours.

Despite the Napthine government announcing billions of dollars worth of sweeteners in last week’s state budget, figures buried in the Treasury papers have painted a damning picture of Victoria’s health system, with additional funding apparently doing little to improve response times for ambulances and hospitals.

Six months out from the state election, the budget papers reveal the government is failing to meet many of its own targets across a range of portfolios with several areas – including TAFEs, aged care and kindergartens – also facing funding cuts.

According to the documents:

* One-third of semi-urgent surgery patients were admitted within 90 days this year – barely any improvement over the previous 12 months

* One-quarter of emergency department patients were not treated in the required time which varies depending on the category

* Paramedics responded to only 73 per cent of code 1 emergency incidents within 15 minutes, well short of the 90 per cent target the government sets itself

* About a third of emergency patients with mental illnesses must wait more than eight hours for hospital beds

* Fewer indigenous students are expected to meet basic year 5 and year 9 literary standards in the next financial year than this year

* Aged care faces funding cuts and TAFE will get $123 million less while kindergartens and sub-acute beds are also under threat because of federal shortfalls.

The gloomy budget details are in stark contrast to the big-ticket items announced by Treasurer Michael O’Brien last week. With the Coalition consistently trailing Labor in the polls, Tuesday’s budget was designed to seize the momentum, with $27 billion of infrastructure projects, including both stages of the East West Link, an underground rail link between South Yarra and Southern Cross, a train connection to the airport and 12 new schools.

However, health was a notable surprise, with doctors saying the increased funding for hospitals was not enough to meet growing demand and would do little to reduce elective surgery waiting lists and overcrowding in emergency departments.

Among the spoils was a $190 million blitz on elective surgery over four years as well as $73 million to redevelop Latrobe Regional Hospital; $14 million to redevelop Boort hospital; and $9 million for new prevention and recovery beds for mentally ill patients in Warrnambool and Mildura.

But, opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said, the performance indicators showed health minister David Davis and the Coalition “clearly underestimated how much money they needed to fix the health system.”

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