Health service 'scaling back'
Nurses Union says "savage cuts" to Queensland Health are resulting in "scaling back the whole service" as the premier vows to put working nurses on hospital boards.PT1M25S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2d8aq 620 349 January 24, 2013
All state-funded primary school nurses have been axed in a move doctors and nurses say will most affect children who are already disadvantaged.
The move comes as Royal Children's Hospital staff fear a "workforce redesign" could affect their ability to treat their patients and involve job cuts.
Nine primary school based nursing positions have been cut by the Children's Health and Hospital Board, spelling the end of an estimated 126 free hearing clinics in southeast Queensland, as well as sight screenings.
The school nurses also offered other preventative care health services such as lessons about hygiene, sexual abuse awareness programs and puberty preparation.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Alex Markwell said the direct impact of the move could be delayed diagnosis of hearing problems, which would in turn lead to language development and learning difficulties.
"I'm not surprised, though it's obviously disappointing," she said.
"Ever since September when it became clear that most preventative health services would be cut we've spoken out against them because they are short-term decisions that will have long term consequences."
Dr Markwell said cutting the program would mean all parents would have to be relied on to take their children to GPs for a hearing test and that was unlikely to happen.
"The difficulty is that the boards have been given such difficult budgets to meet that they really don't have any options," she said.
Queensland Nurses' Union acting secretary Des Elder also criticised the decision.
"Those programs have been picking up kids with hearing issues, and a whole range of screening programs are closing down and it will mean kids have no access," he said.
"It's going to particularly hit disadvantaged families who can least afford to go off and get private assessment done if they are not aware there is any problem in the first place.
"That's the whole point of screening, it picks up things that are not obvious to the normal lay person in the course of things."
Children's Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service chief executive Peter Steer said the program – the only one of its kind in southeast Queensland – was axed to help meet a $15 million savings target.
"There is no evidence that school-based nursing services, particularly, hearing and vision screening effectively addresses health needs," Dr Steer said.
"Children's Health Queensland believes it is vital that comprehensive health checks occur for all children, regardless of any obvious or apparent health concerns.
"We will therefore be supporting GPs in communicating the importance of these checks to families attending our child health clinics."
Meanwhile, staff at the Royal Children's Hospital are bracing for the details of a "redesigning" of the gastroenterology and outpatients services, with fears cuts to the services are in the pipeline.
At a meeting two weeks ago workers were told a review of specialist work in the outpatients area, the emergency department and gastroenterology was underway and cuts to the areas were a possibility.
One source said staff were not given a timeline of when changes would be made and cuts could be confirmed "next week, next month, at any time'.
A spokesman for Children's Health Queensland confirmed the hospital was reviewing ways of "improving service efficiency and effectively [to] deliver the best possible health care for all Queensland families".
"There are no budget or workforce cuts planned for the gastroenterology unit or outpatients and emergency departments at the Royal Children's Hospital," he said.
Instead, he said, there was a "workforce redesign" happening in the gastroenterology and outpatients areas.
Health boards have announced a slew of cuts to staff and services in the past few months.
The Metro North Health Service was forced to deny rumours this week that it was about to announce the axing of 1000 jobs.
LNP defector and Gold Coast Independent MP Alex Douglas blamed health cuts across Queensland on the state and federal governments.
He said health should be a priority for any government and those in power were failing to provide enough funding.
The GP said the recently formed health boards were copping the blame for the cuts which were being forced upon them.