Taking Mersey more complicated than it seems

    Another hitch in Abbott’s plan to take over the Mersey Hospital – this time it’s the transfer of 400 staff from state to Commonwealth employment.

    Lara Giddings, Tasmania’s Health Minister, claims that “deeply unpopular AWAs are the only legal way they have of taking over the staff”.

    If so, the future of the hospital itself is uncertain, because AWAs are indeed unpopular, particularly among nurses who are already feeling the stress of work pressure. And health professionals are in short supply; they can easily find work somewhere other than in Devonport.

    Even in the unlikely event that generous salaries and hours are offered, health professionals will still find it
    unattractive to work in what, thanks to the Commonwealth intervention, has become an increasingly fragmented system in Northern Tasmania. The isolation of Mersey Hospital from Launceston and Burnie hospitals puts an end to any plans for regionally specialised services, where professionals can exercise and develop their skills.

    While Rudd has promised to go along with the takeover, it is possible that these labour troubles give him a face-saving way to reverse his support if he is elected. For, as he has said in relation to the Mersey takeover:

    We believe that what Tasmania needs and what Australia needs is a national approach, an integrated national approach to dealing with health and hospital services, not just one plan for one hospital in one seat in the country.

    Delivery of health services is already fragmented, with the states generally running hospitals while the Commonwealth administers medical and pharmaceutical programs – and even these two programs operate without any integration.

    Taking one hospital out of the state system adds to that fragmentation and adds to incentives for cost-shifting and costly competition for scarce resources, particularly professional staff. However well the community board performs, its concerns will be the Mersey Hospital, not the hospitals in Northern Tasmania, not the hospitals in Tasmania, and not those people in Tasmania whose health care needs may have nothing to do with hospitals.

    If Rudd wins the election he should ask the Tasmanian Government to return the dollar the Commonwealth paid for the Mersey Hospital, and set about developing a state-wide integrated
    health service, in consultation with the Tasmanian Government and community representatives – as a model of a truly integrated health care system for other states to emulate.

    This piece is republished with permission from crikey.com.au