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Pressure grows on health sector

WESTERN Australian hospitals are under increasing pressure to provide more comprehensive medical care and services to the State’s growing population. 

Funding for equipment, redevelopment and expansion of wards comes, among other sources, from the government, self-insured patients, and private donations.

During 2003-04, WA hospitals will have $105.1 million to spend on capital works programs.

This amount emerged from the State’s $2,652 billion health budget, according to the premier’s office, and will be used in areas such as emergency departments, renal-dialysis units and day surgery upgrades.

The Princess Margaret and Swan District hospitals will share $2.8 million for upgrades in their emergency departments.

Sir Charles Gairdner and Rockingham/Kwinana hospitals will receive $9.3 million each for the completion and redevelopment of their respective wards.

A total of $15.3 million will be used to upgrade day surgeries and general wards at Royal Perth, King Edward, Fremantle, Peel Health Campus and Princess Margaret hospitals.

Renal services capacity is set to increase in Peel Health Campus and Royal Perth and $2.85 million will be used to build new adult dental clinics at the Joondalup Health Campus and Coolbellup.

A spokesman for Joondalup Health Campus, ranked at five in the WA Business News Book of Lists 2003, said the planning process for the new dental clinic was in the early stages of development.

“This is not a JHC initiative, although there is a proposal to locate such a clinic on the campus,” he said.

Swan District Hospital, which ranked 10 in the WA Business News Book of Lists, has already started a $2 million redevelopment, which consisted of a $1.3 million observation ward and a $600,000 CT scanner.

SDH acting general manager Gary England said neither new service would be fully operational until July.

“The observation ward is opening on a gradual basis, as we are in the process of recruiting the medical specialist consultants to cover it,” he said.

He said the scanner was one of three in WA public hospitals.

“It will avoid transfers of patients to Royal Perth and Kalamunda Hospital,” Mr England said.

There also had been significant enhancement of the hospital’s obstetrician services in the past 12-18 months.

 “The obstetrician service is now of a good standard,” Mr England said. “We have specialists at hand and have access to anaesthetists and paediatricians who can be on site within 20 minutes of request.”

Chief executive of Peel Health Campus, ranked 11 in the WA Business News Book of Lists 2003, Anne Fletcher said the $3.4 million in funds would help the hospital double its renal unit and extend the oncology unit, both of which were needed to enlarge the day surgery ward.

“In the renal-dialysis there are currently six to eight renal chairs, and with the funds they will increase to 12 chairs,” Ms Fletcher said. “In oncology it will increase from six to eight.”

However, according to Ms Fletcher, the services the campus was offering currently were insufficient in light of the area’s growth potential.

“We need to look at increasing our surgical-medical services and in the region of mental health,” she said.

As the Peel region’s population grows, the level of health care required is escalating, and the hospital is planning an expansion, which is going through board approval and is expected to cost $6 million.

 “The hospital needs to grow 47 per cent to cope with the increased number of private patients,” Ms Fletcher said.

She said the hospital’s main source of funding came from government purchasing services, private health insurance, private funds, central wait list bureau and self-insured patients.

Joondalup Health Campus, which is part of Melbourne-based health care group Mayne also is trying to keep pace with community demands. The campus’s emergency department has faced an increased workload in recent years with a significant increase of attendances – from 22,000 in 1996-97 to 40,000 currently.

“At current growth rate, the [emergency] department could be expected to have an annual attendance of 48,000 per year by 2006,” a JHC spokesman said.

Other current State Government hospital projects include $40 million for the construction of the new Geraldton Hospital and $1 million for a new paediatric ward at Albany hospital.

However, a higher community health expectancy also means an increasing demand for hospital beds and more operating theatres, just to manage the additional patients who would require treatment or admission to hospital.

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