‘Unsustainable’: Major reform the only fix for sick system
Health Minister Yvette D'Ath says her medical staff are "overwhelmed" and "exhausted" as she concedes Queensland doesn't have enough hospital beds to cope with "unsustainable" demand and that nothing will be solved without major reforms.
In her most expansive interview since taking the job, Ms D'Ath has called for cultural change in her own department, a rethink of federal funding, more 24-hour services and a shift into community-based "hospital at home" where a person's house becomes their own private ward.
"There has to be a rethink and a willingness to reform and I'm certainly up for it," she told The Courier-Mail.
"It means having honest conversations about how we deliver services, the scope of work of our health professionals, what the hospitals's role should be versus the broader primary health networks and health care generally in the community.
"It has to be a conversation by all levels of government, but particularly federal and state because it can't just be about constantly throwing more dollars at the system."
Ms D'Ath said while Queensland had escaped waves of COVID cases, there were still 15,000 staff dedicated to hotel quarantine, testing, pathology, vaccination and treatment.
"My staff right now are exhausted," she said.
"They are absolutely overwhelmed because they have been asked to not take leave throughout 2020 because of COVID."
Meanwhile, demand is increasing by more than 10 per cent a year thanks to a growing and ageing population, a lack of GPs that meant people were chronically ill by the time they sought care, low private health coverage and aged care and disability support patients costing $5 million a week in hospital care.
Ms D'Ath said Queensland's health system was world-class, but in high demand and "the growth is just, I think, unsustainable without major reform".
She said ramping was a consequence of a lack of bed capacity, admitting: "Yes, we do need more beds."
Queensland needed 250 extra a year but "we have to figure out how best to do that", she said.
Ms D'Ath said Queensland Health needed "cultural change", like having more doctors embrace hospital in the home, leaving hospitals reserved for only the sickest.
She wants a redesign of hospitals so they are quicker to build and cheaper to modify.
And she wants nurses, midwives and pharmacists to embrace more roles where appropriate to take pressure off doctors, and earmarked union talks around work practices as she questioned why some expensive equipment like MRIs were only being used during business hours.
But the country also needed honest conversations around "perverse" federal funding models that funded states for procedures but not for community care that might prevent a hospitalisation, she said.
Ms D'Ath said she would raise these issues at a national meeting of health ministers on Thursday.
She said COVID held key learnings as bureaucrats got out of the way of frontline innovation.
"And my mission is not to allow us to just get back on the hamster wheel and just get back into the same pressures and feeling like we don't have time to innovate because we're just too busy keeping our head above water," she said.
Originally published as 'Unsustainable': Major reform the only fix for sick system