The Western Australia (WA) government’s $5.6 billion budget surplus has compelled the state’s leading medical association to call for more support amid rampant staff shortages and overcrowding at hospitals.
WA’s economy has outshone most jurisdictions for the duration of the pandemic, growing 5.7 percent since the December quarter of 2019—almost double that of every other state combined.
So far, the new budget has seen the government allocate $3.1 billion towards health, with $1.3 billion towards improving health infrastructure, $960 million to go towards the ongoing 2021-22 WA health budget, and $487 million for COVID-19 measures, including hotel quarantine and vaccination.
The investment will see an extra 332 designated hospital beds, 100 new doctors, and 500 new nurses.
WA Premier Mark McGowan handed down the new budget, having recently appointed himself as state treasurer.
“This big-budget boost builds on our government’s ongoing significant investments in hospitals and health services over the past four years,” McGowan said in a media release.
Minister for Health Roger Cook backed the new budget allocation, saying the additional funding meant “more services, more beds and more staff across our hospitals.”
But Australian Medical Association (AMA) WA President Dr. Mark Duncan-Smith said the new funding was completely inadequate.
“It is appalling the reset for health that doctors were seeking has failed to materialise in the state budget,” Duncan-Smith said in a media release.
WA’s public hospitals have declared “code yellow” 490 times over the last 12 months, The West Australian newspaper reported.
A hospital issues a code yellow when it can no longer take on more emergency patients. Of the 490 issued over the last year, 100 of those was directly linked to a lack of beds for patients.
This week alone, three of WA’s public hospitals—Fiona Stanley, Sir Charles Gairdner, and Royal Perth—declared code yellow on the same day.
Furthermore, August saw a record 6,500 hours of “ambulance ramping”—the total time patients were forced to wait sitting in an ambulance until hospital beds were made available.
“Consider the strain this is placing the health system under; the scrambling to care for patients in various states of distress, the difficulties for doctors who only want to produce the best standard of care they can possibly provide,” Duncan-Smith said. “We can expect outcomes to get worse and more patients to be exposed to poorer standards of care simply due to system overload.”
The bulging budget has made the medical association question why more support was not being funnelled to hospitals, particularly when states like New South Wales and Victoria were dealing with major COVID-19 outbreaks.
Though he welcomed the increased investment in buildings and beds, Duncan-Smith warned there was “no operational budget to run them.”
He said that despite an overall increase of 1.38 percent to the health budget, the operational budget had actually fallen.
“This budget just doesn’t cut it, with the McGowan Government abandoning the healthcare of our community by reducing the operational budget of the healthcare system over the next two years,” Duncan-Smith said.
“Premier and Treasurer Mark McGowan has today delivered more of what Western Australians have experienced under this government, which is a distressed and ailing health system lurching from crisis to crisis.”