Local hospital boards are back

THIS week’s announcement of the Gillard Government’s $20 billion health reform has set off a mixture of praise and criticism among experts in the field.

Ms Gillard argues the deal, which sees funding for all states and territories come from a central pool, will make all levels of health accountable.

However, critics have said it will add another layer of bureaucracy to the already jumbled system, and has overlooked key issues such as aged care.

One of the main focal points is the localisation of management and funding, which will be taken care of by local hospital boards.

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland spokesman Dr Daniel Halliday said he was concerned the reform would not benefit rural communities.

The Stanthorpe-based doctor cast doubt over how “local” the boards would be, and argued measures to improve services and recruit staff in country areas had been forgotten.

But former Warwick Shire councillor Cliff Farrell says the reform would be a positive move for rural hospitals, as long as it brought back local hospital boards.

Mr Farrell served on the-then local hospital board for six years, and is currently on the Darling Downs-West Moreton district hospital board, which covers a large area from Toowoomba to Ipswich, south to Stanthorpe and west to Millmerran.

He argues by reverting to local boards, health care would be administered more fluidly.

“I think there is a closer relationship between the public and the hospital with local boards,” he said.

“That system gave us a lot more control. When we had the local hospital board, we just dealt with Warwick only, and looked after the budget, spending, hiring of doctors and senior staff managers.”

On the current Darling Downs-West Moreton district hospital board, Mr Farrell is one of just two representatives for Warwick.

Comparatively, the local hospital boards had five or six members to manage local health services.

“I feel we don’t get enough input (with the current system). At least with local boards the staff would be on a bit better deal as well,” he said.

Under the health reform, hospitals will be allocated funding based on their performance, but Mr Farrell said that wouldn’t be an issue for Warwick.

“Our hospital here, as with most hospitals in our region, has a pretty high performance rating,” he said.

“If funding was judged on performance, that would keep hospitals on the ball.”

While much of the focus of the reform has been given to the re-modelling of funding, critics have argued aged care needs to take more of a priority.

Mr Farrell agrees and said the “acute shortage” of aged care places was as big a problem in Warwick as it was in the rest of Queensland.

“The Government gave us $8.8 million to build new Oaks with 40 more beds, but we did away with the 40 beds at the Old Oaks building, so we didn’t gain anything,” he said.

“The hospital is now converting that area to good use, but this is something as a board we don’t seem to have any choice with.

“A lot of aged care patients are taking up beds in the hospital where there could be general patients, so that’s really got to be looked into.”

The health reform is yet to be signed off by State and Territory leaders. Its finer details will be decided upon at the mid-year Council of Australian Gov-ernments (COAG) meeting.

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