EDITORIAL: Hunter’s hospital shortfall

 NO wonder the NSW government didn’t want to answer this newspaper’s questions about staffing in the state’s emergency departments.

Forced to use freedom of information legislation to extract the elusive facts, the Herald has confirmed long-held suspicions that the Hunter health system is being massively disadvantaged.

John Hunter Hospital’s emergency department is the busiest in the state. It treats more patients than its counterpart at Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital, but it does so with 20 fewer full-time equivalent nurses and three, or almost 40per cent, fewer full-time equivalent advanced trainee doctors.

It is impossible for such a funding and staffing shortfall not to have a major impact on patient care. 

By demonstrating that it considers the critical care of Sydney people a higher priority than that of Hunter people, the government is once again showing its contempt for regional citizens.

This decision to underfund the Hunter’s major teaching hospital has tangible and measurable results. The John Hunter Hospital lies towards the bottom of the nation’s performers when it comes to meeting benchmarks for admitting and discharging patients. 

In the latest round of national hospital emergency service data, John Hunter was among the worst, discharging or admitting only 46per cent of patients inside the government’s target period.

By contrast, the well-funded Royal Perth hospital achieved a 72 per cent turnaround.

The Australian Medical Association has accused federal and state governments of ‘‘playing a blame game’’ on hospital funding. 

Some states – notably NSW – have cried poor to the commonwealth in order to get more hospital funds, but then at times allegedly used those increases to cover cuts to their own health spending. 

This inevitably hits the Hunter hardest, since the region is traditionally left with the funding crumbs after Sydney is looked after.

The problem in NSW health funding can be seen by the fact that even though Liverpool Hospital’s emergency department is much-better resourced than John Hunter, its performance is also towards of the bottom of the national ladder. 

Hunter people are accustomed to being short-changed by the state government in everything from sporting and cultural facilities to public transport, policing, justice and education. 

But the glaring inequity in health funding should arouse more anger than all the other instances of discrimination, since failure to provide fair resources in this area may threaten people’s lives.

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