Last week a Murwillumbah Hospital staff member went to the local Post Office to drop off the mail only to be told that the letters would not be accepted until the hospital paid its postage account.

The hospital on the NSW far north coast is so cash-stretched that it can no longer afford to pay its running expenses.

In State Parliament yesterday, MP for Tweed Geoff Provest said Murwillumbah’s sister hospital at Tweed Heads could close its doors in two weeks because of its financial crisis. He told MPs:

Senior staff at the hospital have told me today that the hospital will be unable to operate normally within a fortnight unless the State Labor Government pays the bills.

Tweed hospital is broke because the State Labor Government is not providing necessary funds. Indeed, the hospital would be put into administration if it were a private company. Local small businesses have approached me complaining that they have not been paid for three months, and sometimes up to four or five months. They have no choice but to stop supplying goods and services to the hospital unless they are paid promptly.

These revelations come hot on the heels of horror stories from other regional NSW hospitals:

  • Shoalhaven Hospital on the South Coast came close to halting all surgery because it had just a day’s worth of sterilisation solution in stock due to unpaid bills.
  • Earlier this month Dubbo Base Hospital revealed it routinely ran out of basic equipment such as gloves, nurses borrowed bandages from a vet, and a doctor paid $770 for a substance needed for blood tests.
  • Hay Hospital suppliers were left to hang out to dry for up to three months to receive payment for thousands of dollars worth of goods that they supplied.
  • Goulburn Hospital recently asked a mother to supply nappies for her sick baby saying it was now “standard procedure”.

On October 17, Sydney Morning Herald health reporter Natasha Wallace revealed that tens of millions of dollars are owed to medical suppliers by four area health services — Northern Sydney Central Coast, Greater Southern, South Eastern Sydney Illawarra and Greater Western.

Health Minister John Della Bosca expressed shock-horror at the media revelations, released emergency funding of $5 million and added: “I am determined to get to the bottom of this issue as quickly as possible.”

This kind of ministerial buffoonery doesn’t wash any more. Della Bosca sat at the Cabinet table when the forced merger of health service areas into super-areas was taken and when Treasury mandarin John Pierce and his minions insisted on new accounting procedures which meant health areas had to “live within their means”.

What’s happening now flows directly from Cabinet policy decisions with which Della Bosca was in agreement. He has inherited a process which was driven by his three predecessors in the health portfolio – Morris Iemma, John Hatzistergos and Reba Meagher — and supported by Treasury and lucratively reimbursed but clueless consultants.

Peter Fray

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