Government Business – Safe Patient Care Bill

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I was originally intending to make a much longer contribution on this Bill. But, in the interests of time; respecting the wishes of many of the stakeholders to finalise this debate reasonably quickly; and having become aware that we are probably proceeding to committee stage in any case, I’ll save most of my issues and questions – if still necessary – for then. So, for now, I’ll just quickly say that the core premise of this Bill – the desire to deliver enhanced health care services across Victoria – is obviously something with which I imagine everyone in this chamber would agree. From my various consultations on the Bill with constituents and other stakeholders, I think it would be fair to say there is also very broad agreement in the community – including the health industry – with the key parts of the legislation. Any Bill that ultimately has the capacity to help deliver greater certainty and better, safer conditions for nurses, midwives and patients is, obviously, an eminently good thing. And, on that note, I’d like to recognise the outstanding work that is performed by so many nurses, midwives, health administrators and other health professionals across our State. Not least in Northern Victoria. Running and operating hospitals and other healthcare facilities is an extraordinarily complex and delicate art. And we should therefore always be vigilant here in the State Parliament in proposing and responding to legislation aimed at making changes to the ways in which the health system is administered. To that end, my colleague, Stuart Grimley, and I do have (on behalf of our constituents) some points on various aspects of this Bill on which we’d ideally like further clarification and information from the Government. As I say, I now think the most appropriate way of doing that will be through the committee of the whole. I’d also point out that none of this is intended as a sleight or meant as any form of disrespect to the Minister or the Government – who I know have been acting in good faith on these issues. And I appreciate the opportunities they’ve made available to me to receive briefings and further information about the bill.

As a potted summary … for her benefit, and the benefit of her staff and officials, and indeed everyone else here … those concerns are around issues such as:

• the funding (especially to each individual hospital), and the timing of it;

• the specific problems related to the workforce shortages – and difficulties in recruitment – that persist in many rural and regional areas of the State;

• the extra resourcing, generally, that will undoubtedly need to be devoted to administration and red tape in addition to frontline care itself;

• how the Government intends to accommodate, or take account of, the undoubted need for flexibility around the ratios in some circumstances; and

• the problems around complexity of cases, and the reality that modern case mixes aren’t always amenable to being reduced to, and defined by, a pre-determined formula or equation.

On another front, there is not enough direct recognition in our view in this Bill of the critical importance of improving nurse-patient ratios specifically in the field of aged care. I would hope that it is already obvious to all of us here that the generally inadequate resourcing of aged care in Australia is an enormous problem – and must be urgently addressed. And, even for those to whom that might not be obvious, I suspect that it will be once all of the evidence and revelations from the current Federal Royal Commission into aged care services has emerged. Indeed, if we are talking about improving the ratios of health professionals and carers to patients, then it’s very doubtful that there’s a greater need for this to occur anywhere in the system than in the care of our senior citizens. As one example of that, it’s worth noting the AMA’s observation last year that – while bed number ratios for the general population have remained static in recent years – they have now plummeted to a 23-year low for Australians aged 65 or older. Naturally, responsibility in this area lies overwhelmingly with the Federal Government but we would like to see the Victorian Government explore the opportunity to do more in this field through any of the various avenues that are potentially available to them. Such as during the negotiation of Commonwealth-State health funding agreements, for example, and devoting further resources to improving care in public sector residential aged care services. Enhancing aged care should be a major priority of every Australian Parliament. It is an objective that is fundamental to Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, and anything that constructively and genuinely contributes to achieving it will be warmly welcomed by us. All of that said … albeit depending on the Minister’s answers and assurances in committee stage … I should flag that the Justice Party does not believe that there are enough outstanding problems and concerns to prevent us from allowing the passage of the Bill. We think – on balance – that the Bill has enough overall merit and a sufficiently broad range of support from health professionals to be allowed to pass. We do also commend the Government for the objectives that underpin the Bill, and for the time and the effort that has clearly been invested in consulting and working on them with the health sector. We also think it is a very sensible move that a long phase-in period has been established in order to implement them. However, and especially in the light of the existence of that long phase-in period, we would also urge the Government to very seriously examine and take account of our concerns in the name of better aligning their laudable intentions in the Bill with its likely consequences. We would also ask the Labor Party to keep this place (and therefore the public) regularly informed of the progress of the rollout of these changes. And I will conclude … Mr/Acting/Deputy President .. by saying that this should occur with particular urgency as soon as the manifestation of any of the potential problems to which I have referred has started to become apparent. Thank you.