The Health News – 14 February 2014

Overview

  • Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being pushed to give full disclosure of when he and his office were informed of a possible conflict-of-interest involving Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash’s chief-of-staff.
  • The Australian Medical Association has released its annual Public Hospital Report Card, which shows that many public hospitals are failing to adequately meet public demand and performance targets.
  • A Freedom of Information request has revealed a mass resignation of nurses at the Alice Springs Sexual Assault Referral Centre.
  • The outgoing under treasurer Tim Marney has revealed Treasury was only given two weeks to scrutinise a multi-billion dollar contract for the Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Health News on HPR.

Tony Abbott urged to expand on knowledge of Senator Fiona Nash chief of staff’s food lobby links – by Lexi Metherell
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being pushed to give full disclosure of when he and his office were informed of a possible conflict-of-interest involving Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash’s chief-of-staff. Senator Nash has admitted that her chief-of-staff Alastair Furnival asked the health department to remove a website for consumers about the upcoming nutritional food labelling scheme. The minister subsequently told parliament that she was made aware of Mr Furnival’s shareholding in a lobby group, which was currently representing major food brands in relation to the upcoming labelling scheme, but says he had no role in business operations and therefore no conflict of interest. But yesterday in parliament the opposition grilled the prime minister on the potential conflict of interest and failure of the assistant health minister to disclose it. Opposition front bencher Tony Burke asked “Is the Prime Minister aware that Minister Nash did not disclose at the meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, that the Minister chaired in December, that her chief of staff held a shareholding in a food industry lobbying firm, notwithstanding that conflicts to be declared were on the agenda? Why hasn’t the Prime Minister taken any action in accordance with his own ministerial code of conduct?”
The prime miniser replied “I am sure that the member opposite is raising these matters because he is concerned to ensure that the ministerial guidelines have been fully complied with.

I am concerned to ensure that the ministerial guidelines have been fully complied with as well.

I will take the question on notice and if there is anything more to say I will say it.”

Senator Nash maintains that she did not know of her chief-of-staff’s shareholding in the lobby group until the Prime Minister’s office was made aware.

Public hospitals struggle to meet targets: AMA – by Chris Uhlmann
The Australian Medical Association has released its annual Public Hospital Report Card, which shows that many public hospitals are failing to adequately meet public demand and performance targets. One benchmark that all states fell short of was to treat 80% of ‘category 3’ emergency patients within the clinically recommended time frame; health departments have averaged just 68% nationally. AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said “Well, there’s two things that are the answer – more capacity and more engagement with the hospital staff. We’ve shown in WA, and Western Australia’s the only state that’s met the national emergency access target, and they did that by engaging the whole workforce and system redesigning how that hospital ran.”

FoI inquiry reveals nurse resignations at Alice Springs Sexual Assault Referral Centre – by Emma Sleath
A Freedom of Information request has revealed a mass resignation of nurses at the Alice Springs Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

Early last year staffing issues developed at the Alice Springs Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).

Forensic medical examinations were no longer being provided.

In some cases, sexual assault victims, including children, were flown to Darwin to have procedures performed.

In March 2013, the five nurses working for SARC collectively resigned.

In their resignation email, obtained by the ABC through the Freedom of Information Act, they expressed concerns over a “lack of organisation at a departmental level”.

The Northern Territory Health Department has declined to comment but in a statement said that between October 2012 and March 2013 there were no medical officers servicing SARC.

The statement said there is now a medical coordinator and three on-call experienced clinicians involved with SARC.

By the end of April there should be another four clinicians at the service.

Parliamentary hearing told Treasury had only weeks to scrutinise Fiona Stanley Hospital contract – by Stephanie Dawsell
The outgoing under treasurer Tim Marney has revealed Treasury was only given two weeks to scrutinise a multi-billion dollar contract for the Fiona Stanley Hospital with private operator Serco before it went to Cabinet.

In July 2011 Serco was awarded the $4.3 billion dollar contract to run non-clinical support services at the hospital.

Mr Marney has told a parliamentary hearing Treasury had “extremely limited visibility” of the contract.

He said the agency was typically given between six and 12 months to scrutinise contracts of that size, but in this instance, was given just two weeks.

Mr Marney used colourful language to express his annoyance at the decision, telling the hearing he was “pissed off” on “behalf of public interest”.

The hospital has been plagued by budget and timeframe blow outs, with the Government announcing in June it would open six months later than planned and would not be fully functional until 2015.

The under treasurer told the hearing the project had blown out by $330 million over the past three years and said that figure was likely to climb.

Mr Marney said he had repeatedly and strongly raised concerns over the fact the project might incur additional costs and time line setbacks, first notifying the Government and Health Department in September 2012.

While the Treasurer and Health Minister took his concerns seriously, Mr Marney said the then-head of the Health Department Kim Snowball assured them the project was under control.

The Opposition Leader Mark McGowan has seized on the comments, labelling the handling of the project a “financial scandal of the highest order”.

“It is absolutely scandalous, dysfunctional, negligent and irresponsible for the government to behave in that way,” he said.

“Now we see more than 300 million dollars of taxpayers’ money squandered because of their failure to do their job.

“I just find this whole thing incredible, and Mr Barnett and Mr Hames need to come out and account for themselves”.