‘$33b cash cow:’ Health Services Union boss calls for NSW Royal Commission into healthcare spending

News.com.au, 12 February 2023

Ballooning patient complaints, a staff “exodus” and over-servicing have prompted calls for a major investigation into healthcare funding.

Chronic over-servicing of procedures and treatments, misallocation of spending and an ongoing staff exodus have prompted a major union to call for a NSW Royal Commission into the state government’s spending on healthcare.

Despite the NSW government’s record $33b spend on healthcare in the 2022-23 budget, a report released by the Health Services Union (HSU) on Sunday said there needed to be more transparency about where funds are being directed.

HSU NSW State Secretary, Gerard Hayes likened the “out of whack” system to a “$33 billion cash cow”.

With just over 40 days until the state election, Mr Hayes said the crisis was “not political”.

“No side of politics is going to resolve this unless we see the foundation of where the money’s going,” he said on Sunday. 

The report titled ‘Reform Critical – A Fragmented Health System at Breaking Point’ found patient complaints had increased by a whopping 40 per cent since the start of the pandemic, and 144 per cent since 2011-12.

Ten per cent of NSW patients seeking ambulances had also been forced to wait more than two hours between July to September 2022.

Mr Hayes said “overservicing” through unnecessary procedures, test or interventions were a key issue, which combined with fraud was seeing an annual waste of more than $2b.

The report also called for a 5 per cent increase on spending for preventive health care, which it said would reduce illness and hospitalisations.

“Health is there for everyone. It is not there just to make people wealthy. It has got to be able to be attributed to everyone,” he said.

Staffing retention was also a major issue.

The report estimated that NSW would require an extra 25,000 full-time equivalent medical, allied health and support by 2030, however nearly half of a pool of 4500 HSU members said they were either “unsure or definitely” considering leaving their job within the next five years.

Trish Hann, a Sydney-based diagnostic radiographer has witnessed an “exodus” of staff first hand, and said staffing shortages in her department now at a 20-year high.

“People are leaving without even having jobs lined up. They’re just leaving,” she said.

The HSU delegate said staff have been forced to use old “life expired” equipment which was prone to frequent “break downs,” posed safety issues for staff and affected patient welfare.

“Trying to move around an old X-ray machine that is sometimes as old as the staff who are using it is dangerous and I think that’s having a knock-on effect on the care we’re providing to patients,” she said.

She said requests to upgrade equipment were routinely ignored, with staff given the impression they should “stay in their lane”.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the issues raised by the HSU would be better raised at the National Cabinet over a Royal Commission.

However he backed recommendations for more GPs, particularly bulk-billing GPs, and a stronger primary care network to reduce the strain on hospitals.

“Working together, we will make the changes to assist the health system right across the country,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“I don’t want to talk money, I want to talk policy. Let’s get the best policy settings and then we’ll discuss federal state financial relations off the back of it.”

Labor Opposition Leader, Chris Minns said he was “open” to a Royal Commission, and welcomed attempts to ensure “precious taxpayer dollars” were being spent efficiently.