South-west hospitals forced to cut deep as funding reduced

HOSPITALS across the south-west are facing the painful prospect of bed closures, fewer staff and longer elective surgery lists as they scramble to respond to savage budget cuts made by the federal government. 

Warrnambool and Portland hospitals have revealed they will begin scaling back services in a bid to find savings after a shock decision by the federal government to pull $106 million from Victoria’s health system. 

South West Healthcare (SWH), which had $1.4 million slashed from its budget, announced it would close beds in the coming months, although the number was yet to be confirmed. 

About 400 patients will have their surgery delayed, while the hospital will also freeze hiring for all existing vacant positions. 

The raft of measures received the green light from the hospital board of management during a two-hour meeting on Thursday night. 

South West Healthcare (SWH) chief executive officer John Krygger slammed both levels of government for failing to agree on funding for the state’s hospitals. 

“No one wants to do this,” Mr Krygger told The Standard.

“What this does is dismantle our outstanding health service.” 

Job losses were not included in this week’s measures but the hospital chief was unable to rule out future redundancies. “I can’t categorically say that — but at this stage it’s not part of the budget,” he said. 

“There’s very little fat left in this organisation … there is just no excess capacity in terms of jobs.”

The scaling back of services is designed to carry SWH up to the next financial year, but Mr Krygger signalled more pain could be on the way. 

“We haven’t got the answers for the ongoing budget cuts the following year,” he said.

The impact will be felt most by patients awaiting surgery. There are about 1874 patients on the elective surgery lists but that number is expected to jump to 2300 by June next year, according to Mr Krygger. 

Doctors and nurses would be placed under enormous pressure with freezes and tougher hiring conditions. 

No services will close but SWH will now have “minimal staff”. 

Warrnambool is just one of many Victorian hospitals dealing with the $107 million federal government funding cuts, which have been justified by Canberra using revised Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data which shows a falling statewide population. 

Victorian Health Minister David Davis has bitterly disputed the figures.

His federal counterpart Tanya Plibersek has pointed to health cuts of $616 million made by Spring Street. 

Portland District Health (PDH) announced it will cease offering public surgery on hip and knee joint replacements from March next year after having cut $254,000 from its yearly budget. 

Portland Hospital will also close its operating wards for two weeks over Easter, warning the move will lead to longer elective surgery lists. 

CEO Chris Giles said the hospital had been left with no option and would review staff pay rates and implement a small reduction in hours. 

Western District Health Service in Hamilton and Colac Area Health are also expected to announce their own measures. 

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