Labor’s plan for an independent statutory authority to future-proof health planning, take politics out

Dr Bastian Seidel said he fell for the promises made by then health minister Michael Ferguson to provide more community and GP support to justify centralising North-West birthing services to Burnie.

But Labor’s new health spokesperson said that then nothing happened.

He said anger about empty promises and short-term fixes that left Tasmania with the nation’s worst health outcomes is why he entered politics.

“My sole reason to be here is to make a difference,” Dr Seidel said.

He said to future-proof health planning and take the politics out, if elected next month Labor would establish the Tasmanian Commission on Prevention, Strategic Planning, and Innovation in Health as an independent statutory authority.

LABOR REBIRTH: Labor health spokesman Dr Bastian Seidel says maternity services can be safely returned to the Mersey Community Hospital. Picture: Simon Sturzaker.

 LABOR REBIRTH: Labor health spokesman Dr Bastian Seidel says maternity services can be safely returned to the Mersey Community Hospital. Picture: Simon Sturzaker.

“They will do the planning for prevention in mental health, dental health, in hospital networks and initiatives to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system. We will provide $2.5 million a year to fund it.”

Labor also pledged this week to return routine birthing services to the Mersey Community Hospital and recruit more permanent medicos making it a National Centre for Rural Health and Integrated Maternity Care.

However, the Liberals claim Dr Seidel is putting politics before the community’s health and what he “really believes,” saying he previously “made it clear he wanted to close the Mersey” and supported centralising birthing services Burnie.

Dr Seidel said he remembered the meeting he had with Mr Ferguson “very well” when he was the head of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

“Michael said we need to do this because we don’t have the workforce, and we are going to do integrated care. We are going to support the community and support GPs to offer better antenatal care. He promised heaven and earth and what happened was nothing. At the North West Regional Hospital, services were outsourced to a private provider. When Michael was health minister promising to make Tasmania the healthiest state…I’m quite happy to say I fell for it, but nothing happened,” Dr Seidel said.

However, Liberal health spokesperson Sarah Courtney labelled Dr Seidel’s “new position shameful,” claiming it’s based on a “perceived political advantage.”

“Dr Seidel was right in 2015 when he supported our decision and wrong in 2021 when he has back-flipped to oppose it,” she said.

However, Dr Seidel said birthing services were being returned to regional areas safely in other places.

He said under the nationally agreed clinical framework for deliveries, the MCH could safely provide level two maternity services with routine deliveries from 37 weeks onwards. Under the guidelines, the MCH required a birthing suite and operating theatre in case of an emergency caesarean section, he said.

“You don’t need to have ICU capability on-site you need it available, which can be at the NWRH and Launceston General Hospital,” Dr Seidel said.

He said part of the problem, which unfortunately had come from the medical profession, was that people had been told it was impossible to provide antenatal and maternity care without an ICU and other services because something may or may not happen.

“That’s been the myth that’s been out there for well over a decade, and it’s just not true. The counter-argument is we don’t deliver a service at all, and kids are being born on the wayside because there’s no continuity of care, and let’s hope for the best.

“The evidence from several inquiries backs-up bringing maternity services back in the regions, and the evidence is clear we can do this safely.”

Dr Seidel said in a tweet from 2015 he referenced comments from health analyst Martyn Goddard who pointed out issues at the MCH and that it existed because of election pork barrelling.

“The concern I had and I still have is that the Liberal Government was really geared towards setting up buildings and hospital structures and then don’t fund them properly in terms of staffing. They don’t put permanent staff in; they put locum staff in just to keep the doors open, and that is not effective or efficient, it’s extremely expensive, and it’s not delivering the health outcomes patients expect.”

Dr Seidel said the MCH was understaffed.

Without a commitment to employ a general surgeon or physician to look after patients admitted, it was left to ED doctors, which meant not enough doctors in the ED, he said.

“Instead, ambulances are being diverted to Launceston, which doesn’t make sense. A single ambulance call-out costs about $800, and you are diverting an ambulance for a patient who could get seen at the MCH, but the doctors staffing the ED get called out to look after patients on the wards.”

After Queensland committed to reinvigorating regional and rural hospitals by paying staff well and providing permanent jobs, Dr Seidel said that it returned safe services to those places.

“That’s what we should do for the MCH as well,” he said.

Asked why it would be different under Labor this time as Labor previously wanted to cut services at the MCH, he said Labor recognised healthcare thinking had changed.

“There’s been a fair bit of a rethink nationally in regards to the rural workforce, and when I was national president of RACGP, we worked closely with the federal government to develop pathways for rural generalists. That’s also an approach to bring specialty surgeons and physicians back into rural areas,” he said.

He said integrated rural training hubs provide a pathway to attract a regional medical workforce.

“We know from evidence gathered from the last eight years if you integrate the training pathways and make sure those people are being trained properly in the regions they are staying in the regions.”

He said Labor would employ two extra MCH ED doctors, five specialists, 15 nurses, and midwives plus 10 extra medical specialists at the NWRH and two emergency medicine positions.

Labor would increase the health budget 4.1 per cent and find efficiencies without cuts such as saving on locums, he said.