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Pandemic shouldn’t stop Qld Health planning for future: Auditor-General

Politics

Auditor-General Brendan Worrall has questioned why the health department doesn’t assess its progress on long-term plans and can’t say what it means to have ‘sustainable’ services.

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Worrall’s comments, in a report tabled in parliament today, come as COVID-19 patients continue to put pressure on hospitals also dealing with emergency department delays.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Queensland had detected three new cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine, including another traveller from Papua New Guinea. There are now 65 COVID-19 patients in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care, and Palaszczuk acknowledged the system was under pressure.

“This is yet another reminder of this wicked virus and the ongoing threat it poses,” Palaszczuk told parliament.

The Opposition has this week sought to pressure the government over elective surgery waiting lists, ambulance delays and ‘ramping’ at hospitals, only for the government to generally blame the pandemic.

“Queenslanders have performed incredibly well during our pandemic,” Palaszczuk told parliament, adding that the health of Queenslanders remained her government’s priority.

“On this side of the house, we have invested massively in our health system.”

Asked whether she would back the Liberal National Party plan to address ‘ramping’ at hospitals, Palaszczuk said she hadn’t seen it but wouldn’t.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath, who has recently sought to make more hospital beds available, will meet with a patient access advisory committee today to discuss possible short-term and long-term plans. She said the government was responding to the issues, but again pointed to the ongoing challenge of dealing with the pandemic.

Worrall paused his audit of Queensland Health to allow for it to respond to the pandemic. In his eventual report, the Auditor-General wrote that there remained a need to effectively plan for the ongoing provision of services.

“The 2020 year has brought healthcare to the fore in the minds of governments and communities as they grappled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Worrall wrote.

“People in Queensland have relied on the fact that safe and effective health services will be available to them where and when they need it.”

The audit report was highly critical of the lack of coordinated planning, and assessment of progress in Queensland Health, including whether services were becoming any more sustainable.

“Queensland Health does not have a clear definition of a sustainable health system,” the report states.

“This makes it hard for it to know whether it has a sustainable system or whether its plans will help achieve one.”

The lack of workforce planning was also criticised, with the report calling for more coordination between the department and Health and Hospital Services. It noted that the government had yet to respond to an independent governance review, commissioned by Queensland Health in 2019, that recommended that the department take account of the different demographic and service needs, and strategic and operational capabilities, of each HHS.

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