NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner yesterday promised no local frontline health jobs would be cut and budgets for local health districts had in fact been increased.
The undertakings came during a visit to Tamworth by the minister.
Mrs Skinner said claims by unions that frontline jobs were due to be cut were untrue and the government had actually increased local health districts’ budgets to provide more frontline workers and services.
Just four weeks ago, Mrs Skinner said savings would be directed to frontline work to admit 30,000 extra patients to public hospitals and treat 50,000 extra patients in emergency departments this financial year.
Mrs Skinner was in the region to attend the official opening of Werris Creek’s new Multi-Purpose Service and inspect redevelopment works under way at the Tamworth hospital.
Her visit came a day after 25 of the North West’s union groups formed an alliance to take on the state government’s proposed cuts to 15,000 public service sector – including health workers’ positions.
Mrs Skinner was the guest of honour at a ceremony marking the opening of Werris Creek’s new health care centre, in which the government invested $11.2 million.
About 40 community members and health workers attended, along with a dozen official guests and speakers including member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson, director general of NSW Health Dr Mary Foley, Liverpool Plains mayor Ian Lobsey and Werris Creek Local Health Committee chairman Keith Moore.
The centre, which has been operating since July, was described as a “state-of-the-art” facility, an example of the “new era in health services” and a milestone for the Werris Creek community.
Mrs Skinner said the facility was all about bringing sophisticated health technology and clinicians to local people.
She went on to list the government’s investment in health infrastructure this year, including the Werris Creek facility and Tamworth’s new $220 million hospital redevelopment and North West Cancer Centre.
But union groups and local health workers, who rallied the day before, only wanted to know how many people would be working at the facilities when the government acted on its nearly $3 billion in cuts to health.
Local health districts have reportedly been asked to make $775 million in savings over the next four years under a “labour expense cap” as part of the budget cut.
When asked how many jobs that would translate to in the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNEU) servicing the New England and North West, Mrs Skinner said she was allowing health districts to come up with those decisions themselves.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association had declared that the Mehi cluster of HNEU, made up of nine regional hospitals and community health centres, was directed to reduce its jobs expenditure by $400,000.
The union claimed the budget cut, and others to come, would affect thousands of local health workers.
Mrs Skinner admitted it was difficult at times to counter the union hierarchies’ claims and rumours, but they simply weren’t true.
“Local health districts’ budgets have actually been increased by the government,” she said.
HNEU’s overall budget for 2012-13 is $1.8 billion and Mrs Skinner said that would be used to improve local health services and offer more frontline positions.
The minister defined front-line workers as those involved in direct patient care, such as nurses and doctors, and confirmed they would never have their positions taken away.
HNEU chief executive Michael Di Rienzo, who also attended yesterday’s opening, repeated the minister’s assurance that no frontline positions were being targeted to meet budgets.
Mr Di Rienzo said he wanted to reassure staff.
“Redundancies would only be made if we believe there are functions that are no longer required,” he said.
“There would be a process to go through and staff, along with the relevant unions and associations, would be consulted.”