Newly sworn-in premier Chris Minns has flagged reducing the elective surgery waiting list as his health ministry’s first priority, announcing a “surgical care taskforce” to tackle the crisis in public hospitals.
Premier Minns and new Health Minister Ryan Park made an informal visit to Sydney’s Westmead Hospital around midnight on Monday. Yesterday, following a meeting with NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce, they fronted reporters at Liverpool Hospital to make the announcement.
“[Minister Park] has directed the secretary to establish a surgical care taskforce to look specifically at the elective surgery waiting list, at the more than 100,000 people that are currently on that waiting list, including 17,000 that are waiting longer than clinically recommended in NSW – that list includes 4000 children,” Mr Minns said.
“We’ve looked to New Zealand, which has a similar taskforce in place. We’ve been able to look at jurisdictions around the world – whether it’s logistics or medical experts – as well as those already in the department [and we aim] to make a real dent, particularly in relation to those waiting longer than clinically recommended.”
Mr Park said the surgical care taskforce would report back to him in three months.
“And from now on, I’m going to start calling it ‘planned’ surgery,” he told reporters. “You’ll note that in opposition, I didn’t like the term ‘elective’ surgery – it sounded like people had a choice. This is surgery that people need to reduce the pain and suffering they experience and that can allow them to go back to work and to be an active member of the community. Language is important, and I want to make sure that changes.”
While announcing a taskforce is virtually a political set piece in healthcare, the choice of a hospital for one of the Premier’s first press conferences suggests he is well aware voters will be looking for improvement in the troubled sector. That includes NSW healthcare workers, who will be eyeing off Labor’s election promise to scrap the former Perrottet government’s 3% public sector wages cap.
It’s still too early to say how regional and remote NSW may respond to the change in government. However, it is understood that Labor currently has no plans to incorporate a dedicated regional health portfolio into the new ministry. That portfolio was held by NSW Nationals deputy leader Bronnie Taylor in the former Perrottet government.
Mr Park acknowledged the hospital crisis wasn’t just about patients being unable to get into a hospital.
“It’s back end and front end,” he said. “You’ve got to have a look at what’s coming in the door and how quickly you can get out the door. That includes challenges around aged care. I know in my own hospital in Wollongong at the moment there are about 130 people sitting in acute beds that really should be in aged care.
“That’s not passing the buck to the Commonwealth – I’ve said from day one that I want to work with [federal Health Minister] Mark Butler and with [federal Minister for Aged Care] Anika Wells to make sure that we’re working as a system to do that. But it’s also challenges coming in the door – emergency surgery competes with plain surgery every day of the week, that will always be a challenge.”
Mr Park said he backed the introduction of urgent care clinics initiative as “a critical reform” that could ease pressure on emergency departments. Currently, the federal government plans to establish 14 clinics in NSW, while the Perrottet government has committed to setting up 25 additional state versions.
“But nothing is a silver bullet here – we’ll move piece by piece, bit by bit,” he said. “We’ve got to try and take some pressure off emergency departments but this is not going to happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, Mr Park told reporters he could be a regular hospital visitor himself: “Every single week, at different times of the day, I’ll be visiting a hospital unannounced to try and get a real sense of what’s happening,” he said.