29 August 2018

Tasmanian health minister given a reality check

Government Hospitals

Tasmania’s Health Minister Michael Ferguson has met a furious response after he publicly fobbed off a senior doctor’s concerns about long delays and lost training opportunities at Royal Hobart Hospital.

Senior staff specialist Dr Frank O’Keefe spoke out at the end of Mr Ferguson’s press conference on Monday, saying a dire bed shortage at the hospital was causing bottlenecks that promised new funding would not fix.

It would be “like putting petrol into a car up on blocks – you can put as much in as you like and it still won’t go anywhere”, the obstetrician and gynaecologist said.

Dr O’Keefe said trainees at the hospital had “exceptionally low” opportunities to do major surgeries that were a necessary part of their training because of bed shortages.

“There’s plenty of staff, but we do not have the beds to do the surgery, and it often gets cancelled. So until that gets addressed, there’s still going to be a problem there.”

Instead of responding, the minister flicked the question to the Royal Hobart’s surgical and perioperative clinical director, Dr Marcus Skinner.

Hundreds of doctors and members of the public vented their disapproval of Mr Ferguson’s response on social media, variously labelling it as smug, dismissive and patronising.

Specialist colleague Dr Warren Kennedy said: “So this happened today. I’m proud to say that I trained with Frank O’Keefe and call him a friend. Today he called it like it is. It doesn’t matter how much money you put into the health system, if there’s not enough beds you can’t do surgery.”

Tasmanian GP Clare Ballinghall said on Twitter that Dr O’Keefe was “an exceptional individual and highly respected colleague, voicing concerns of most Tasmanian doctors”.

According to ABC Hobart, a video of Dr O’Keefe’s remarks had been viewed more than 23,000 times and shared more than 400 times.

Mr Ferguson had called the press conference at the hospital to announce the state would spend $4 million over two years, to be supplemented by $3.2 million of federal funding, to reduce the elective surgery waiting list for women’s surgeries.

Last night, the Liberal minister issued a statement saying he had spoken to Dr O’Keefe and had a “constructive discussion”.

“The government completely agrees that more beds need to be opened and that’s why we have a plan to deliver $757 million of new health funding to deliver almost 300 new beds, including 250 at the RHH,” he said.

However, he said only four gynaecology and gynaecological oncology patients had had procedures postponed “because of demand surges” in 2017-18.

“This minister needs to listen to not only surgeons, but the dedicated staff trying to arrange surgery for patients,” Beth Rieper, identified as a clinical coordinator for surgical access at the hospital, wrote on the ABC Facebook page.

“It is soul wrenching when the planning for surgery is arranged with patients and the patient has made plans, gone through pre-op workup, bed arranged if lucky enough to have been allocated one of a few shared with surgery then surgery cancelled.

“Not impressed with the dismissal given to Frank and for Marcus to sort … when and how if the funding isn’t there to fix it!”

RANZCOG President Dr Steve Robson today confirmed that the Royal Hobart could lose its training accreditation.