Parliament: Questions Kelly's Asked

Latex Allergies at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital

The Hon. S.G. WADE: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Health questions in relation to elective surgery.

Leave granted.

The Hon. S.G. WADE: Data published on SA Health’s elective surgery dashboard this morning shows that of the 17,000 South Australians ready and waiting for elective surgery in South Australia the operations of almost 1,300 of them are already overdue. There are currently three times as many overdue elective surgery operations than there were a year ago, when there were only 400 operations overdue. Of the 1,288 elective surgery operations that are overdue, 809 of them—that is, two-thirds—are due to be undertaken at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Less than a fortnight ago, the chief executive officer of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network advised publicly that she and her colleagues were working on a plan to get on top of the hospital elective surgery delays by June next year; that is, in nine months’ time. My questions are:

  1. Can the minister confirm that it is going to take nine months for SA Health to get on top of the extraordinary elective surgery backlog at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital?
  2. When does he expect the number of overdue elective surgery operations at the NRAH to fall below the 400 person level?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Health, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): Again, I thank the Hon. Mr Wade for his important question. The Hon. Mr Wade is right to point out that approximately 1,200 elective surgeries are overdue within our system. There are a range of reasons that result in that figure. The principal reason, of course, is that we have had an extraordinary period of winter demand—that is something I am sure the Hon. Mr Wade understands. We had a record flu season in South Australia with well in excess of double the number of people reporting with flu symptoms than has been the case in the past. That, of course, resulted in extraordinary demand on our public hospital system, with an extraordinary number of emergency department presentations.

All these pressures combine to make sure that hospitals adjust accordingly. We are not in the business of turning people away from our hospitals who need urgent medical attention, and of course that means there are consequences to those decisions and often that manifests itself in elective surgeries not necessarily occurring at the rate we would like to see.

What we have to ask ourselves is: what is the counterfactual here had the government not pursued its policy agenda and had, rather, allowed itself to fall at the behest of what the opposition had been advocating for? We know the opposition has been opposed to reform of the health system generally, we know the opposition has been opposed to the creation and the building of the brand-new Royal Adelaide Hospital, and it is worth asking ourselves: had the opposition had their way, what position would those people be in now?

Let’s take a specific number. Let’s take, for example, what has happened at Modbury, where we know there has been in excess of a 30 per cent increase in the number of elective surgeries performed at the Modbury Hospital. That 30 per cent increase represents somewhere over 800 elective surgeries occurring at that hospital. These are real people with real conditions; for instance, shoulder reconstructions, foot and ankle surgeries and, I am advised, knee reconstructions. So, these are real people with real requirements, real medical needs that need to be addressed. Had the government not made the reforms that it has, many of them could still be waiting—if the Liberal Party had had their way.

So, of course we would like to see those numbers reduce, but that is why we are making the decisions to achieve it. That is why we are doing everything a government should to try to make sure that those numbers are as small as they possibly can be. We are proud of the fact that our policies stand up when it comes to delivering better outcomes for the South Australian public, including around elective surgery.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Supplementary: given that the minister mentioned real people with real medical needs to be addressed, will he move to make the new RAH a latex-free environment, given that 5 per cent of the population currently has a latex allergy, and this can increase with exposure to latex?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Health, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): I thank the honourable member for her question. That is not an area I have been briefed on, but I am happy to seek advice and share it with the honourable member.