Lasting pain: Albury Wodonga Health crisis

HUNDREDS of people without health insurance are going to suffer pain and discomfort waiting longer for hospital operations in Albury and Wodonga as the list passes the 4000 mark next week.

By mid-year the list could top 5500 and there’s little prospect of reversing the rising trend any time soon as federal and state ministers squabble about health funding.

Albury Wodonga Health board chairman Ulf Ericson said yesterday: “There’s no doubt people will be in pain because of spending cuts.”

One result of the organisation having to trim $3.9 million over six months is that it will cease funding vascular surgery and certain pain management procedures.

However, chief executive Stuart Spring said some of these had become so expensive that it wasn’t possible to fund any more — although patients would have the alternative of medication to counter pain.

Mr Ericson and Dr Spring spoke yesterday after the board endorsed tough actions including calling for 50 voluntary redundancies, closing 28 beds and reorganising some of the remaining 232 beds.

“Today the waiting list for elective surgery for public patients stands at 3960, and it will be 4000 next week,” Dr Spring said.

“Normally we do about 900 elective surgery procedures a month, but now we’ll only be able to do about 600 as we don’t have enough money.

“It will delay things like gall bladder and hernia operations where people can wait 30 days or more, and orthopaedic and joint replacement operations.”

But about 120 public patients — mainly children needing their tonsils out or adult urological cases — will be  treated at the Albury-Wodonga Private Hospital from next month under a one-off Victorian grant of $295,000. 

Dr Spring said Wodonga hospital wasn’t being “singled out”; some beds there had closed for building works.

Asked about prospects after June, Mr Ericson said the board didn’t know, but they didn’t look good.

“After the $3.9 million to be saved (between now and June 30) we’ll have to save another $2.2 million off next year’s budget,” he said.

“We don’t want to do anything that would stop AWH being a vital regional health service.”

Mr Ericson, a chartered accountant and former chairman of Hume Building Society, said: “This is the hardest job I’ve had in 30 years in professional life”.

Ulf Ericson and Stuart Spring discuss the tough measures including job cuts and bed closures. Picture: BEN EYLES

Ulf Ericson and Stuart Spring discuss the tough measures including job cuts and bed closures. Picture: BEN EYLES