Troubling audit finds hospital staff values falling

THE Auditor-General has found state hospital staffing costs are rising at a much faster rate than productivity.

While health staff delivered 4.9 per cent more care than in the previous year - the costs of which can be recuperated under federal funding - their wage costs rose 7.3 per cent.

A troubling audit of the financial health of the state's 16 Health and Hospital Services (HHSs) found eight reported operating deficits in 2018-19, when only three had budgeted for such.

Collectively, deficits reached a total of $34.4 million and the long-term financial viability of HHSs was under threat.

Health Minister Steven Miles. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Health Minister Steven Miles. Picture: Glenn Hunt

Among the causes for the budget blowouts were rising staff costs to pay for Queensland Health's 78,000-strong workforce, blowouts in implementing IT projects like the troubled electronic medical record program (ieMR), the cost of providing mental health care to children and increases to the cost of drugs.

There's also a whopping $893 million maintenance bill "likely to put additional pressure on the sector's long-term sustainability".

"The long-term financial sustainability of the hospital and health services continues to decline, emphasising the need for them to contain growth in expenditure while meeting growing community demand for health services," Brendan Worrall's report found.

Employee expenses make up two-thirds of HHS expenses, with 83 per cent of the 78,000 workers in frontline, healthcare positions and about 13,260 in non-frontline operational and administrative support roles.

The report found the use of contract staff to support ieMR had heavily impacted budgets at Gold Coast, Townsville and the Darling Downs and that the rollout at the Darling Downs had needed to be paused pending a submission to the Cabinet Budget Review Committee for additional funding.

Health Minister Steven Miles said the Government had hired more health staff to treat more people than ever before, many with more complex health conditions.

But efficiencies had also been introduced around newer and faster diagnostic technology, new digital systems and more efficient use of tests, treatments and procedures, he said.

Mr Miles said ieMR would eventually realise $1.9 billion in savings by 2027 by reducing the average length of stay, unplanned readmissions, and the number of serious falls and pressure injuries.

But Opposition Health spokeswoman Ros Bates said money was being wasted that should be improving frontline services.

"It's no wonder Labor has delivered record ambulance ramping rates and the surgery wait list has blown out by 26,000 Queenslanders," she said.

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