All rural Tasmanian hospitals will provide 24/seven emergency care under a state Labor government, the party promises.
State Opposition Leader Rebecca White on Saturday launched the party’s health plan, pledging to reverse “seven years of neglect” by the Liberal government, if voters hand Labor majority government at the May 1 election.
The incumbent Liberal government was quick to fire back, saying that Tasmanians remember the downgrading of hospitals under previous Labor administrations.
Key to Labor’s plan is a $197 million investment to upgrade 17 rural hospitals and provide around-the-clock care at 30 community health centres.
“The sad fact is that people in regional areas have poorer health and die younger,” Ms White said.
She said the government had created and overseen the biggest hospital crisis in the state’s history.
“Just half of all emergency patients are seen within recommended time-frames and Tasmanians are becoming sicker waiting for help.
“Labor’s solution is to treat more people in their community by providing local 24/seven nursing, access to allied health, a mental health social worker and a vehicle for patient transport.”
Better care at a local level will help prevent and reduce emergency department presentations, ambulance call-outs and hospital admissions, she said.
Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein said Labor could not be trusted to deliver on health.
“Last time when they were in government they sacked a nurse a day for nine months, they closed wards (and) they actually closed and downgraded hospitals,” he told reporters on Saturday.
The premier has announced a raft of health policies during the election campaign, but said more announcements will be made on rural health soon.
Among the Liberals health promises are a pledge of $156 million over four years to cut lengthy elective surgery waiting lists, and $110 million for upgrades to Burnie’s North-West Regional Hospital and health centres in Kingston and Mersey.
An extra $110 million for redevelopments at the Royal Hobart Hospital has also been promised, taking the overall spend on the redevelopment – which will include an expanded intensive care unit and emergency department – to $200 million.
Labor health spokesman Bastian Seidel said Tasmania’s 17 small rural hospitals are integral to the well-being and identity of rural communities.
“Our regional health system will simply not survive another four years of Liberal chaos,” the doctor said.
Labor has committed to hire and extra 90 nurses, and 60 additional physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians and exercise physiologists.
It also committed to re-writing the Rural Medical Practitioners Agreement, and to training packages for 50 GPs to become rural generalists.
Labor earlier in the campaign promised $40 million to put mental health workers in every public primary and high school across the state.