DOCTORS are fearing emergency departments will soon be pared back or closed as hospitals continue to slash services due to damaging budget cuts.
President of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Dr Anthony Cross said doctors were extremely worried emergency departments at the Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully, Sandringham Hospital, and Casey Hospital in Berwick could be partially closed or shut down due to a lack of funding.
While no health service has announced this, Dr Cross said it is believed hospital executives are reviewing these departments to see if they can cut costs. He warned any emergency department closures would force people to travel further for care, putting lives at risk.
''If beds, staff or services are cut from one hospital, all those patients have to go somewhere else,'' Dr Cross said. ''This will lead to even more overburdened, overcrowded emergency departments filled with patients who can't be admitted because there are no beds, and can't be discharged because they are too ill.''
Spokespeople for Southern Health, Eastern Health and Alfred Health declined to comment on emergency department closures and said they were still reviewing services.
President of the Australian Medical Association's Victorian branch Dr Stephen Parnis warned it would be ''grossly irresponsible'' to cut emergency services and that bed closures were already posing ''unacceptable risks'' to Victorian patients.
Both doctors expressed concern that hospitals were now cutting more services than expected due to the loss of $107 million in Commonwealth funding this year and said state government cuts of about $123 million a year could be causing more unannounced closures behind the scenes.
While Victorian hospitals have closed more than 300 beds and cancelled thousands of elective-surgery procedures due to budget cuts, emergency departments have largely been spared - with the exception of Frankston Hospital, which is closing 10 ''short-stay'' beds attached to its emergency department.
Royal Australasian College of Surgeons president Professor Michael Hollands said a single level of government was needed to fund hospitals, rather than the current shared arrangement that had fuelled the ''blame game'' between state and federal governments over service cuts.
''The college calls on governments across Australia to fix a public health system that is unsustainable in its current form. As a first step, this must involve the implementation of a single funder model,'' he said.
''There is a real concern that individual patients' conditions will deteriorate even to the point of requiring emergency interventions - significantly more expensive and dangerous than elective procedures.''
Health and Community Services Union state secretary Lloyd Williams said he was concerned about cuts to mental health services.
''Mental health is already the poor cousin of general health, and it cannot sustain any more cuts whatsoever,'' he said.
Despite the cuts, the Victorian government on Friday released a four-year plan to reduce the alcohol and drug toll, saying it would ''strengthen the Victorian health system to respond to the continuing growth in alcohol-caused hospital admissions.''
With RICHARD WILLINGHAM