The Hon. J. F. RYAN: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Health and Community Services. Is the Minister aware of allegations made on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald today about decreasing bed numbers in the west of Sydney, arising out of a report of a survey by the Western Sydney Regional Information and Research Service - WESTIR - on health services in that part of the city? Is the Minister able to comment on the truth of these allegations, despite bed numbers being the responsibility of the Minister for Health Services Management in another place? Why was a Minister of the Crown not contactable last night to comment on these allegations?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: It was with some interest that I read this morning's article and the statement that I was not available for comment. I was at home and I do not know why I was not contacted. My staff are well known to that journalist, and none of them was contacted. The Minister for Health Services Management was contactable, but no approach was made to him. The report is disappointing. It selectively took material from the WESTIR study and as such did not accurately reflect the truth. The allegation about bed numbers is completely untrue and I am unsure of where the WESTIR study obtained its figures. I do know that nowhere in the report does WESTIR suggest that the initiatives taken by the Government are putting people at greater risk. In fact, the report unequivocally states that in 1989 the Western Sydney, Wentworth and South Western Sydney area health services all had below the average Sydney death rate of 7.4 per 1,000. That reflects a generally younger population in the regions. The report stated also that life expectancy in area health service areas in Sydney's west is slightly below the New South Wales average, saying, "They are all above the equivalent Australian life expectancies". The differences quoted in the report are that the average life expectancy in New South Wales is 72.45 years, in western Sydney 72.16 years, and throughout Australia 69.56 years. The report states that although the overall number of beds has been relatively stable, the total number of bed days has declined. The report said, "The decreasing length of stay could reflect a drop in the number of hospital beds required in the future to service a given population, especially if procedures continue to drop". Though the Sydney Morning Herald health system experts claimed a decrease in bed numbers during the past three years, that is not correct.
The Hon. Judith Walker: You turn them over.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: The beds remain there; it is the patients that are turned over. I shall come to that, because the honourable member makes an astute observation. In 1988-89, western Sydney had 3,797 beds. In 1989-90, it had 3,845, an increase of 48. In 1990-91 it had 3,846, another increase. In October 1991 it had 3,866, an increase of 20 beds. So in fact there has been an increase rather than a decrease in the number of beds. Even more interesting and important is the number of people treated
in hospitals. In that respect WESTIR was correct, and I quote from page 42 of its report. It said that increases in day-only patients and improving surgical and recovery procedures have contributed to a decrease in the total number of bed days, and hence a decline in the average length of stay in hospital. The decreasing length of stay, the report said, could reflect a drop in the number of hospital beds required in future to service a given population, especially if procedures continue to improve. The total number of hospital admissions in western Sydney areas increased from 203,261 in 1989-90 to 216,028 in 1990-91, an increase of 6.3 per cent.
The total increase in admissions in the three years was 10.7 per cent. The share of the total general hospital budget for the three areas has increased from 20.95 per cent to 21.44 per cent. Major capital works, which I approved, are in progress in the three western Sydney areas and represent a capital investment of more than $673.77 million in the future for hospital services in greater western Sydney. Notwithstanding the facts, the Sydney Morning Herald continues to run a totally incorrect line, inconsistent with the figures, and to a large extent, not even in accord with the report upon which that newspaper seeks to rely. It is a poor and disappointing reflection on the quality of articles prepared by that particular journalist, who recently was nominated at an award function for the quality of his health articles. That journalist knows better and that particular article is disappointing because it is inaccurate.