Frontline workers call for royal commission into NSW health spending

The Daily Telegraph, 2 December 2022

A campaign calling for a royal commission into NSW’s health budget claims that specialists are pocketing more money than ever, while frontline workers’ wages are going backwards.

Hospital workers and paramedics are calling for a full-scale royal commission into the NSW health budget, with a shock campaign accusing specialist doctors of pocketing money while patients wait on the phone and ordinary frontline workers cop pay cuts.

The unprecedented move will seek to uncover why health spending has consistently increased by more than double the rate of inflation but the workforce is so stretched, with one insider saying it was “on the verge of mass resignation”.

At the core of the campaign is a complaint that specialist doctors are pocketing more money than ever, while ordinary frontline workers like ambulance officers, nurses and hospital cleaners are going backwards.

The hard-hitting ads depict a man appearing to suffer a heart attack while waiting for an ambulance, and a sick child waiting for treatment while a specialist literally pockets a wad of cash and drives off in a fancy car.

At around $33 billion a year, health spending comprises almost a third of the entire NSW budget.

If the campaign is successful, it is believed it would be the first ever royal commission into the biggest area of state government spending.

The powerful Health Services Union will kickstart the campaign with an advertising blitz on Sunday night, and will maintain the pressure with television, outdoor, radio and digital ads for the four months until the March 26 state election.

According to data compiled by the HSU, ambulance wait times are the second-worst in the country, while regional NSW patients wait six months for an appointment with a specialist.

In the decade to March 2020 the number of vacancies in the NSW health sector doubled from around 3000 to 6000, yet by July 2022 they nearly doubled again to almost 12,000 vacancies.

The union said increases in health funding were clearly not going to paramedics, nurses and other vital workers.

“Each year the (Health) Minister announces a record health spend yet people still cop unacceptable wait times for ambulances and specialists,” HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes told The Daily Telegraph.

“We know this money is not going to paramedics, therapists, radiologists, junior medical officers and cleaners. Their incomes are going backwards.

“Only a full royal ­commission with the power to discover documents and compel witnesses will show us where and how the health budget is being spent.”

The veteran union leader explicitly took aim at doctors for increasing their fees while other healthcare workers have had their salaries effectively cut.

Mr Hayes also said the hospital system was picking up the burden of shortcomings in the aged care sector, which was recently the subject of its own royal commission.

“In some parts of NSW, close to one in 10 hospital beds are taken by people who should be in aged care,” he said.