West Wimmera Health could close beds due to government funding cuts

WEST Wimmera Health Service chief executive John Smith has warned Federal Government cuts could close hospital beds and curtail community health programs.

The health service is set to lose $157,000 this financial year because of Commonwealth cuts to funding promised in the 2012-13 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

A further $191,000 will be cut during the 2014-15 financial year, followed by $231,000 in 2015-16.

"This equals a total of $579,000 over the triennium ending June 30, 2016," Mr Smith said.

He said the funding cuts would have negative implications for the health and well-being of about 16,000 people in West Wimmera Health Service's catchment area.

The service covers 17,000 square kilometres in north-western Victoria, extending into the south-east of South Australia.

"Regrettably, it is almost certain that, should these cuts not be reversed, acute hospital beds will again need to be closed and various community health programs curtailed so we can continue to operate in a financially responsible manner," Mr Smith said.

The service had to close 15 of its acute beds at Nhill and Rainbow in January last year because of the same funding cuts.

Nhill Hospital also closed its theatre.

A population data error saw the then Labor government axe about $107 million in health funding from the state.

West Wimmera Health Service was told it would lose $170,000, but the cuts were revoked before the end of the 2012-13 financial year.

"Without such reversal, we would have recorded a materially-sized operating deficit, which would have further threatened our sustainability and capacity to meet the healthcare demands of our population," Mr Smith said.

He said the projected cuts would be compounded by a difficult financial environment.

The estimated impact of the carbon tax on the health service amounted to about $70,000 last financial year.

Mr Smith said it was an ongoing cost.

"On top of that, there is the ongoing imposition of a 2.5 per cent across-the-board productivity saving by the State Government," he said.

The productivity saving came to about $350,000 last financial year.

Mr Smith said other factors included rising staff costs and issues with private health insurance funding.

West Wimmera Health Service reported an operating revenue of about $33 million last financial year.

“The care of our ageing population, as well as the general level of mental health and disability support we are able to provide our rurally remote community, will be significantly and negatively affected,” Mr Smith said.

The health service has drafted a letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott pleading for the planned cuts to be reversed.

Copies of the letter will also be sent to Treasurer Joe Hockey, Health Minister Peter Dutton, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, Victorian Health Minister David Davis, Member for Mallee Andrew Broad, Member for Lowan Hugh Delahunty and all Victorian senators.

Mr Smith said he hoped the issue would also garner support from health organisations in the Wimmera Southern Mallee Health Alliance.

Wimmera Health Care Group stands to lose $2,020,000 by June 30, 2016, because of the cuts.

Stawell Regional Health, Dunmunkle Health Services, East Wimmera Health Service, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital and Rural Northwest Health will also be affected.

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