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Issue #1535      15 February 2012

Vic government closes 1,516 public hospital beds during December and January

The Baillieu government had more than one and a half thousand public hospital beds closed across Victoria between December 23, 2011 and January 25, 2012.

The figure is more than double the number of beds nurses closed during the peak of their industrial action between November 12 and 26 in 2011.

The beds, closed for all or part of the period in December and January, included intensive care beds, paediatric beds, surgical beds, coronary care beds and sub-acute beds.

The Victorian Branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) is going to publish the “Baillieu government bed closure toll” regularly to ensure transparency and accountability in the lead up to any “new bed” announcements the government makes to fulfil its election promise to open 800 new hospital beds.

ANF (Victorian Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said: "The Baillieu Government must revise its election promise - it doesn't just have to open 800 beds, it now has to open 2,316 beds.

"ANF's bed audit is a biopsy of the health system and the diagnosis is grim. Our hospitals are very sick and failing the people of Victoria. If the Baillieu government keeps underfunding hospitals the only thing left to do will be an autopsy of the health system," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

ANF is also counting closed public hospital beds in response to the bed closure outrage expressed by Liberal premier Ted Baillieu, health minister David Davis and senior public hospital executives during the nurses' recent industrial action.

On November 14, 2011 health minister David Davis in an interview with Neil Mitchell on 3AW 693 said: "Clearly lives are at risk as hundreds of beds are closed."

On November 15, the Baillieu government's Hospital and Health Services Performance Executive Director Frances Diver told a Fair Work Australia hearing about the nurses' industrial action: "The view that we take, that I take in the department at a system level is that with a significant number of beds closed that creates avoidable delays in the system and places patients at risk through those delays and has a negative impact on patients' potential outcomes."

On the same day, Southern Health Executive Director Nursing and Midwifery and Support Services Cheyne Chalmers told a Fair Work Australia hearing about the nurses' industrial action: "Every day that it [bed closures] goes on it puts more and more pressure on an already pressurised health system. We're getting up to in excess of 40 patients that we will have cancelled for surgery by the end of tomorrow. Each one of those patients that we potentially cancel and who need to wait longer for their surgery could in fact become acute during this time."

Ms Fitzpatrick said: "This government's legacy will be Baillieu's health lottery. The gamble is will you get a bed, will you get your surgery and will you get a nurse with three years’ training or a health assistant with three months’ training looking after you?

"Shutting 1,516 beds is unacceptable from a government that says closing beds risks lives," she said.

"Hospitals have been forced to close beds, even whole wards, to meet the Baillieu government's budget cuts. Victorian hospitals haven't had one and a half thousand beds closed because patient demand has dropped dramatically," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"This can't be explained by a ‘realignment' of hospital services. There aren't fewer people attending emergency departments. People don't suddenly have fewer strokes in January," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"ANF is confident the AMA will share nurses' and midwives' concerns about the closure of so many hospital beds because the doctors have also been keeping a tally on the Baillieu government's bed closures and ward closures and have continually called on the government to reveal where its promised new beds will be delivered," she said.

"The Baillieu government expressed public outrage and provided daily details about the number of closed beds during the nurses' industrial action. Where's the Government outrage when it has 1516 beds closed?" Ms Fitzpatrick asked.

To keep up to date on the nurses’ campaign, visit www.anfvic.asn.au  

Next article – Where to now in push for sovereignty?

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