ALBURY-Wodonga’s hospital crisis has suddenly gone from bad to worse as savage cuts in state and federal funding bite more deeply.
Yesterday, Albury Wodonga Health initiated its delayed voluntary redundancy program to slash 50 jobs.
From today, the Albury and Wodonga hospitals will operate with 28 fewer beds than their full complement of 260.
That means elective surgery waiting lists for public patients, already totalling 3500 before Christmas, are set to grow longer — and there is little hope the situation will improve much this year.
Chairman of Albury Wodonga Health Ulf Ericson will chair a board meeting this week to discuss how to cope with a forced budget cut of $3.9 million over six months to June 30.
The figure consists of $1.1 million arising from a Commonwealth cut based on population estimates, and $2.2 million in the state allocation.
“This is the biggest issue we have had,” Mr Ericson said last night.
“We are trying to protect Albury Wodonga Health’s service model and keep it intact.
“We don’t want to see it destroyed, the next few months are going to be very difficult.”
Chief executive Stuart Spring sent all staff a memo yesterday detailing the changes, including a new restriction on filling vacancies, requiring a hard look at each job.
Wodonga hospital is already eight beds down because of new building works but a further 20 beds — closed over the holidays — will stay closed at the two hospitals.
Two operating rooms in each hospital will also be closed.
The 20 bed closures include seven surgical beds across the two sites and three high-acuity beds in Albury, together with a consolidation of surgical beds into one ward instead of two half-wards.
Dr Spring conceded the further cuts in elective surgery would lengthen waiting lists.
“The board, my executive colleagues and I — and I know all of you — greatly regret these measures have come about and we are in discussions with the departments of health in reviewing the situation,” Dr Spring said in his memo.