Canberrans deserve a high-performing health system, delivering the best quality healthcare. To do this, we need a positive workplace culture that attracts and retains the best staff.
Workplace culture can be hard to define, but is often described as an organisation's values or "the things we do when no one is looking". ACT Health's values are care, excellence, collaboration and integrity. It is crucial that public healthcare has these values at the forefront.
Every day, staff deliver compassionate, skilled care to the Canberra community. We are working hard to continually develop and improve our healthcare system.
As Minister for Health and Well-being, I have taken time to understand the challenges and opportunities in delivering public healthcare in a growing city. I have spoken to our doctors, nurses, midwives, allied-health staff, stakeholder groups, consumers and patients to understand how we can improve the system to deliver better health outcomes.
Improving culture and staff engagement has been a priority for me. So I have been deeply concerned at recent public debate about the workplace culture in Canberra's public health system.
This has been a tough year for ACT Health. After a very disappointing draft accreditation report in March, staff stepped up and demonstrated professionalism and dedication to the independent assessors. The result was unconditional accreditation for the maximum three years. The assessors made frequent note of the positive workplace culture they observed. This was a turning point.
From October 1, there will be significant governance reform at ACT Health, which will separate into two organisations: one dedicated to clinical service delivery, the other to health system management. This will provide even clearer accountability for performance, innovation and culture.
To build on these achievements and respond to community concern, I have also initiated an independent review of workplace culture in the delivery of public health services.
The review will investigate and report on workplace culture. It will protect the confidentiality and privacy of people who make submissions, and of those who may be the subject of complaints, to ensure procedural fairness.
It will make findings and recommendations to improve workplace culture and highlight positive examples that already exist. It will refer cases of bullying and harassment to appropriate authorities.
This will be an opportunity to learn and heal, to unite around a common goal: working in a high-performing system dedicated to achieving better health outcomes to the community.
There are some who think the issue of workplace culture warrants a much more serious board of inquiry or royal commission. I disagree.
A board of inquiry has the potential to turn staff against each other. As many have put to me, such an inquiry tends to be steeped in blame culture and discourages many people from coming forward. It would also costs tens of millions of dollars, take too long and potentially lead to nurses, midwives, junior doctors and even cleaners being subjected to cross-examination by teams of lawyers.
This is not what I want, and I don't believe Canberrans wish for this to be inflicted on people whose time is better spent delivering healthcare.
As for grilling ACT Health executives in public hearings, this already happens twice a year in the Legislative Assembly during estimates and annual report hearings.
I have had many conversations over the past two weeks, and overwhelmingly people have expressed strongly a desire to see a positive, uniting process. A board of inquiry is not that process.
Instead, I have appointed a highly regarded independent panel to conduct a review, with comprehensive terms of reference.
The review will examine and report on any claims of inappropriate conduct, existing workforce policies and complaints management practices. It will make recommendations for improving workforce culture and support and training for staff, and identify examples of what works well in our healthcare system.
The review will report to me by March 30, 2019. I will make the report public. The government will respond to its findings within three months.
I have received support for this approach from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Nurses, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Health Care Consumers Association and others who have spoken publicly. I have also welcomed and included input from a range of organisations, including the Australian Medical Association's ACT branch.
Canberrans who rely on our public health system can be confident this review will help make our hospitals and health services even better.
Staff working in our public health system can be confident that, if they want to offer their thoughts, concerns and experiences, they will be protected and we will listen, learn and improve our workplace culture together.
Because, ultimately, this will improve the health of our workforce, the health of our system and the health of our community.
Meegan Fitzharris is the ACT's Minister for Health and Well-being.