NSW health spending inquiry is VMO witch hunt, says AMA

3 minute read

Put the money which would be spent on the review to clinical frontline services, says Dr Michael Bonning.

The NSW government has announced a new inquiry into how healthcare is funded in the state.

Led by senior barrister Richard Beasley SC, the comprehensive review will look into the existing governance and accountability structure of NSW Health, the way NSW Health funds services in public hospital and community settings and strategies available to address escalating costs in the sector.

Items under consideration include the structure of Local Health Districts, NSW Health’s governance and accountability structures, how the department distributes funding to public hospitals and primary care services, and strategies to curb rising costs and minimise waste.

The inquiry will also assess whether existing funding arrangements place an over-reliance on hospital-based care in emergency departments, whether these arrangements support or limit access to primary care services.

Health Minister Ryan Park told Nine Newspapers that he had particular concern about the money the state spends on locum doctors.

“Now, we need them, they’re important, but we have got to have a look at that and whether it’s the most efficient use of resources,” Mr Park told Nine Newspapers.

While RACGP NSW chair Professor Charlotte Hespe welcomed the special inquiry, saying that general practice played a critical role in reducing pressure on the emergency department system, AMA’s NSW president Dr Michael Bonning was not pleased.

“This inquiry is an exorbitantly wasteful use of taxpayer dollars when we need to see funding going into frontline clinical services,” he said.

“If the government wants ways in which to prioritise clinical care, they should be asking the experts – the ones who are delivering those services … and making a difference in the NSW health system.”

NSW Health has already been the subject of many inquiries, Dr Bonning pointed out, the most recent one having come out just last year.

He alleged that the real driver behind the new inquiry was the Health Services Union, which Dr Bonning said were “driving an agenda that is specifically about taking money out of the parts of the health system where clinical care is delivered and moving it into other parts of the system”.

“I think [HSU secretary] Gerard Hayes is trying to mint his own power in this scenario … to try and push an agenda on the federal government,” he said.

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“One of the things that we recognise about this special commission is that it lacks direction and an understanding of how the system is actually funded.”

Because Medicare is used to fund many of the procedures done by VMOs in state hospitals but is ultimately controlled by the federal government, Dr Bonning said that a portion of the terms of inquiry would go unanswered.

“Visiting medical offices are doctors who have been part of our system for generations, and they work consistently in the system on five-year contracts that are often rolling from time to time,” he said.

“They are the ones that provide the predominance of surgical services across the state.

“There are departments that are entirely run by the VMOs, and those are decisions that were made by New South Wales Health.”

The inquiry is the first to examine expenditure throughout NSW’s health system and how this translates to health outcomes, according to the NSW government website.

The commission is tasked with delivering its final report to NSW governor Margaret Beazley on or before 24 August next year.

Do you have a story tip for us, or a topic you would like to see us cover? Contact the editor at editor@healthservicesdaily.com.au.

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