State's health services in financial stress

HALF of Melbourne's health services have reported losses for the last financial year, and one rural hospital is in serious financial stress as it struggles to meet growing demand for its services.

The losses come as Victoria's health system continues to buckle under increasing pressure, with figures showing scores of Victorians are waiting too long for ambulances and hospital care.

A swag of annual reports tabled in Parliament yesterday revealed half of Melbourne's 14 health services reported deficits for the 2011-12 financial year.

Northern Health, which runs the Northern Hospital in Epping, reported the largest loss of $5.24 million. It was followed by Eastern Health and Southern Health, which both lost nearly $2.9 million, and Western Health, which came in $1.68 million short.

Eastern Health runs Box Hill and Maroondah hospitals; Southern Health runs Monash Medical Centre and Dandenong Hospital; and Western Health runs the Sunshine and Western hospitals.

The West Gippsland Healthcare Group, which runs a hospital serving about 40,000 people in Warragul, also reported a deficit of $1.3 million, along with solvency stress.

In a frank annual report statement, president Brian Davey and chief executive Dan Weeks said demand for its services had significantly exceeded the group's funding allocation last year, resulting in a loss.

They flagged more pain this year and said the group was unlikely to reduce their elective surgery waiting list in the foreseeable future.

''The year ahead is likely to be very challenging for West Gippsland Healthcare Group, as we struggle to balance our funding allocation with the ever increasing demand for services,'' they wrote.

In response to questions about Northern Health's deficit, chief executive Greg Pullen said the network was in a ''rapidly growing, complex and diverse community'' and was budgeting to break even this financial year.

Ambulance Victoria's 2011-12 annual report posted a $3.35 million loss and said its response times continued to decline, with paramedics taking longer than 15 minutes to respond to one in four cases.

They responded within time in 75 per cent of cases, down from 77 per cent the previous year, and below the target of 85 per cent.

The Department of Health's annual report showed that while Victorian emergency departments treated all urgent patients immediately last year, nearly a third of category three patients (people with moderate to severe blood loss or persistent vomiting) were not treated within the government's target of 30 minutes.

Thousands of Victorians waiting for semi-urgent elective surgery also waited too long, with just 72 per cent of category two patients getting their surgery within the government's target of 90 days.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis said his government had increased health spending to a record $13.68 billion this year and was working with the West Gippsland Healthcare Group to improve its position.

But Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the coalition's health funding was ''hopelessly inadequate'' and meant hospitals were going backwards. ''You see the decline in the bottom line for the health services and in clinical outcomes,'' he said.

The president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Stephen Parnis, said there was an ''increasing level of duress'' in the health system, which was trying to cope with rising demand from a growing and ageing population.

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