After a fiery stoush over nursing numbers in question time on Wednesday (23 August), NSW Health Minister Ryan Park has today unveiled a promised ‘Special Commission of Inquiry’ to review healthcare funding in NSW.
It came as Labor MP Paul Scully outlined a supposed “$7 billion hole” in the budget and accused the former treasurer and current Shadow Health Minister Matt Kean of a plan to “sack” more than 1000 nurses.
“Hidden in the detail was the Member for Hornsby’s fiscal trap – 1100 nurses not funded,” he declared as shouts erupted in the Lower House.
“The truth is revealed in the back end: two years into the next budget, he was gonna sack 1100 nurses!”
Mr Kean hit back, accusing Mr Scully of being “deliberately quarrelsome and misleading” about the nurses he described as “COVID recovery nurses”.
The Health Minister took this as confirmation that the 1112 unfunded nursing positions were to be scrapped and outlined the numbers across 14 local health districts (LHDs), including 61.4 nurses in his own region of Illawarra Shoalhaven and 41.6 nurses in the Murrumbidgee LHD.
“The fact is, even post-COVID, our health system is under immense pressure and we cannot afford to lose thousands of nurses,” he said.
“Labor is committed to managing our finances responsibly and rebuilding our essential services.”
Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr, the Chair of the Select Committee on Regional and Remote Health, said it was concerning.
“The bottom line is that in Murrumbidgee, I don’t think we can afford to lose 41.6 nurses, and I don’t think across rural and regional health anyone can afford to do the same,” he said.
“It’s puzzling to me that they were continuing to fund them as ‘post-COVID nurses’ right up till now, and that indicates to me that they were actually filling roles well beyond COVID and they clearly need to continue.
“I think the coalition government would have had to find the funding because the work is there. That’s the bottom line.”
Today, Mr Park announced that veteran barrister Richard Beasley would oversee a Special Commission of Inquiry to review healthcare funding.
Health in NSW takes the lion’s share of the state budget and is one of the largest employers in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Our government is committed to making the right policy and investment decisions. To do that, we need to understand the complex issues and challenges faced by essential services and workers,” Mr Park said.
“The purpose of the Inquiry is to help us determine what steps we need to take to move forward and how we can continue to deliver the essential health services our community deserves.
“I want to acknowledge the 178,000 staff who work tirelessly each and every day to provide the best care possible to their patients and consumers.”
Commissioner Beasley will deliver a final report to the Governor on or before 24 August 2024.