By Paul Hemsley
Key medical and nursing groups have questioned how Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s pre-announcement of an $816 million boost to health services in tomorrow’s state budget will tally-up against a raft of cuts to public sector jobs.
The latest funding announcement has left both the Australian Medical Association [of] Queensland (AMAQ) and the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) baffled as state government employees brace for what are widely expected to be more substantial cuts to the public sector in state budget on Tuesday.
Health minister Lawrence Springborg announced on the weekend that health would be given an extra $816 million over the $11 billion already allocated for the 2012-13 budget in a bid reduce long waiting times for patients by having more staff available to work on weekends.
But peak health groups now appear confused over how last Friday’s state government announcement to axe 2754 state-wide health staff was so swiftly followed by the apparent hiring of some 300 frontline workers in an separate government announcement on Sunday.
For example, it is unclear if Townsville Hospital and Health Service’s recent cut of 131 staff members is inclusive or exclusive of the 2754 set to be laid off.
AMAQ president Dr Alex Markwell said it was unfortunate that the government announced jobs cuts and job increases within in two days of each other, but that “any increase in health funding is a good thing”.
“Our concern is less about the total dollars and more about how it is spent,” Dr Markwell said. “Although it is an increase on what they have currently, it’s less of an increase than what has occurred previously.”
Dr Markwell said while the $816 million increase represented a seven per cent increase on the previous year, previous years had a 10 per cent increase.
Consequently, each hospital and health service will still need to find savings from costs because they won’t have as much money as they would have anticipated, according to Dr Markwell.
“It’s not quite smoke and mirrors… but it is quite difficult to find your way through various announcements and to see what the overall net gain is,” she said.
QNU secretary, Beth Mohle was more direct and warned the state government is “sending very mixed messages”.
“On the one hand, they’re saying they’re going to employ an extra 300 staff. Well why is it necessary to cut 2570 workers? It doesn’t make any sense,” Ms Mohle said.
According to Ms Mohle, it is uncertain whether the budget will have a slight increase or decrease because of the four per cent increase in activity since last year combined with with health inflation currently running at three per cent.
Ms Mohle said last year’s increase of 10 per cent kept the sector slightly ahead of its growth, but that a seven per cent increase may not meet the sector’s needs.
Dr Markwell said that in addition to the job cuts, Friday’s announcement included cuts to preventative and public health programs.
“We think they’ve been cut because they’re attractive and a soft target because they’ve don’t deliver immediate outcomes,” she said.
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