Health spared in tough mini-budget

According to the NSW Government, health is spared from the cuts announced in the recent state mini-budget but the NSWNA remains cautious.

The State Government says that while the mini-budget is tough they have quarantined front line services. Treasurer Eric Roozendaal said the health budget of $13.2 billion has been maintained. This figure was an increase of 5% on the previous year, which in turn was an increase of 7.2% on the previous year.

The mini-budget includes a staff freeze on all ‘non-frontline public servants’ until the end of next year. The Government also flagged a merger of back office functions of some Area Health Services.

NSWNA Secretary Brett Holmes cautiously welcomed the sparing of health from the Treasury razor, but said there were still likely to be consequences for nurses.

‘Overall the health budget hasn’t been reduced but there is real pressure to reduce spending in line with budgets. The government has identified $295 million in savings to be made annually,’ he said.

‘NSW Health says the freeze on staffing won’t affect frontline positions and anything clinical is frontline. But we are concerned there may be an impact on some nurse positions. We will have to see how it plays out with the Area Health Services and how they interpret the department’s directives. Early messages from Chief Executives are gloomy.’

Brett said NSW Health, in talks with the Association, raised that they want to change the skill-mix in small hospitals and introduce more AiNs. They say they will continue to sell off government-owned nursing homes.

‘We will have a battle around adequate staffing, skill-mix and rural health services providing long-stay aged care will be really challenged,’ he said.

Canberra needs to pull its weight in funding

The State Government claims that one of the fundamental reasons for NSW’s budgetary problems is the shift in health costs from Canberra to state governments.

In 1971 health expenditure represented 14.6% of the total NSW budget but by last year this had increased to around 28%. Treasurer Roozendaal said this reflects increased demand driven by an ageing population, advancing technology and rising health costs.

‘The original health funding agreement between the states and Canberra established a 50-50 split for government funding of public hospitals. Right now, Canberra’s contribution to NSW public hospitals is around 40%. NSW is forced to make up the difference,’ he said.

‘On this point, I agree with this dire warning from the independent NSW Auditor General: “At this rate, funding for health will consume the entire state budget by 2033”.’

Nathan Rees fronts up to nurse delegates

NSW Premier Nathan Rees made a surprise visit to the November Committee of Delegates meeting.

‘I want to pay tribute to you and the nurses you represent. The health system has its challenges but we should still hold our heads high. You should be proud,’ he told delegates. ‘I thank you not just for the clinical work that you do but also as delegates protecting the pay and conditions of your members.’

The Premier said he had ‘made a clear and unequivocal decision about quarantining frontline services’ in the mini-budget and vowed to be a strong advocate with the Federal Government for increased funding for health in NSW.

‘I’ll try and get more money out of Kevin Rudd. The health workforce needs serious remedial work. Appropriate pay and conditions for you – who are the backbone of the system – needs to be addressed. I have written to the Prime Minister about this.’

NSW General Secretary Brett Holmes said it was the first time a NSW Premier had addressed a Committee of Delegates meeting.

‘This was an approach from the Premier himself to come here.’