Treasurer Wayne Swan has vowed the federal government will do "everything" in its power to stop the Queensland government's proposed health reforms.
Health outsourcing a moving train
Health minister Lawrence Springborg says outsourcing health department work to the private sector is happening and people can "get on the train or get under it".
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has announced a new high-level body will be set-up to scrutinise private health investment in Queensland's health services as part of a "blueprint'' for reform.
Mr Swan claims the reforms effectively mean some Queensland hospitals will be privatised, while nursing jobs in the community sector will be lost.
‘‘The essence of Medicare is a commitment to quality healthcare through free public hospitals,’’ he said on Wednesday afternoon.
‘‘I believe that is directly under threat here in Queensland.’’
He promised the federal government would do ‘‘everything it possibly can’’ to stop the proposed changes.
‘‘We will do everything we can within the legal framework that we have signed with these governments to stop these things from happening,’’ he said.
‘‘But at the end of the day these governments are pursuing an agenda which is opposed to the fundamental principles of Medicare and I believe the Australian people have a strong view in support of Medicare, of free public hospitals, the capacity to go to a doctor and get access to medical services when you need them.
‘‘Well, on the hospital front they are threatening them.’’
A new Ministerial Health Infrastructure Council will be set up within Queensland Health under the LNP’s ‘‘blueprint for better healthcare’’ launched at a lunch on Wednesday.
Mr Springborg said the new body would ‘‘assess the ideas that come to us’’.
‘‘It will be set up in my portfolio and it will he easy to use,'' he said.
He said he expected cabinet to review early expressions of interest - described as "market soundings" - on the future of the Royal Children's Hospital at Bowen Hills - in October 2013 and hope to put the concept to tender in early 2014.
It is hoped this area could provide additional elective surgery area for southeast Queensland.
The Queensland Government plans to ask for expressions of interest from the private sector to build a new surgical procedures centre on the site of the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Private sector bids will be verified by a second new body, called the Contestability Branch, also to be set up in Queensland Health.
Staff have already received a briefing covering Health Minister Lawrence Springborg's announcement about how the private sector and not-for-profit agencies will become more involved in providing health services.
Mr Springborg and Premier Campbell Newman are outlining more details about the plan at the Liberal National Party hosted lunch at the Sofitel.
Guests have paid up to $200 each to hear the plan.
Mr Newman said Queensland Health had been on its deathbed, kept going only by staff in hospitals and health care centres.
‘‘We will not stand by year after year as health care budgets blow out,’’ he said.
Mr Springborg has set the tone early in his speech.
‘‘I don't see myself as the public health minister. I am the Health Minister of Queensland," he said, criticising unions for opposing greater private sector involvement in health services.
Earlier, Mr Newman said the health blueprint was the LNP's approach to making changes to the system.
‘‘This blueprint is a step along the way to restoring the credibility to our health system,'' he said.
One of the proposals is to invite ‘‘market soundings’’ for a surgical procedures centre at the children’s hospital in May.
The government hopes to take expressions of interest in October and then request tenders for the project in January.
Mr Springborg spoke of what he called public, private and not-for-profit sector partnerships while previewing the blueprint on Tuesday.
‘‘Our proposal at the moment is to look at where we have new opportunities,’’ he said.
‘‘Such as the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, such as we may do with the re-development of the Royal Children’s Hospital and how we can develop whole new suites of free public health services in Queensland efficiently.’’
The government has released key features for its plan ahead of the lunch including:
- Restructuring Queensland Health’s corporate office to make it 43 per cent smaller;
- Streamlining staff awards and entitlements;
- Transferring senior officers to ‘competitive contracts’ in line with ‘‘international best practice’’;
- An audit of the partnership model used with the Sunshine Coast University Hospital - which the University of Queensland has withdrawn from;
- Expressions of interest for the ‘latent’ space at the Gold Coast University Hospital;
- A newly created Mental Health Commission;
- A rural tele-health service; and
- Banning ambulance bypass and implementing new procedures for ambulance access to emergency departments.
The Queensland Australian Medical Association has tentatively welcomed the plan.
President Dr Alex Markwell said “on the surface” the government’s blueprint looked ‘‘like a positive step for Queenslanders” but wanted to study the details closely, including how the consolidation and simplifying of workplace awards would be handled.
“The transparency and accountability around improved reporting is a big tick but the challenge will be to ensure that we are reporting on the right things so Queenslanders can get a true reflection of our health system,” Dr Markwell said in a statement.
“The mechanism to allow health employees to report unnecessary waste and make suggestions to improve the system bypassing bureaucracy is also a positive note.”
Dr Markwell said expanded partnerships between private and not-for-profit sectors and the public sector would be supported as long as “strict accountability” was maintained.
“All in all, the document looks to be on the right track but a strategy is only as good as its implementation. The Health Minister has talked the talk, now it is time to walk the walk,” Dr Markwell said.
The blueprint has been condemned by the nurses union. Secretary Beth Mohle says the union recognises the need for the public and private sectors to work more closely together.
But it’s very concerned about the impact the blueprint will have on jobs, conditions and pay.
Ms Mohle says there’s no guarantee that if services are outsourced union members will be paid the same wage.
‘‘We’re concerned about our members’ job security and also what it will mean for health services for the community,’’ she said.
‘‘A privatised system we believe could end up meaning much greater out-of-pocket expenses for the community.’’
Ms Mohle says the union will fight tooth and nail to defend Queensland’s longstanding public health system.
‘‘We see this as a direct attack on the integrity of the system,'' she said.
Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk called the plan "the first wave of privatisations" planned by the government.
Ms Palaszczuk accused the government of wanting to keep the final Costello Audit report ‘‘hidden’’ as it would recommend further privatisation.
‘‘The LNP’s blueprint is a recipe for handing over the hospital system belonging to Queenslanders to private conglomerates which will put profits before patients," Ms Palaszczuk said in a statement.
“Today’s LNP fundraising lunch, subsidised by taxpayers, confirms the Newman Government is Americanising our free hospital system built through decades of investment by Queensland taxpayers.’’
Bridie Jabour, Tony Moore and Amy Remeikis with AAP