Outrage over $1b black hole in Coast hospital funds
THERE are no field dressings, camouflage tents or razor-wire walls, but the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital has become a battleground after Health Minister Cameron Dick's discovery of what he says is a $1billion funding black hole.
Mr Dick says he is stunned by the former Newman government's failure to make provisions for the operational requirements of the new hospital when it is completed late next year.
"It's quite shocking to me that in every one of the health budgets delivered by Lawrence Springborg, no money was allocated to the health budget to operate the new hospital," he said.
"It's just under $1billion that has to be found by the Labor Government that wasn't in the forward estimates.
"I've found a massive, billion-dollar black hole for the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital."
While the construction of the hospital was properly funded, Mr Dick said that from 2012 onwards, the LNP government failed to adequately stockpile funds to ensure the hospital would be able to function.
He said there was also no budget provision for associated costs that came with the transfer and relocation of some health services on the Sunshine Coast.
"It's greatly disappointing to find these things," Mr Dick said yesterday.
"There's about half-a-billion (missing) to actually run the hospital and also about half-a-billion to ensure we can change how services are delivered on the Sunshine Coast and transition to the new hospital. What the Labor Government now has to do, and what I have to do as Health Minister, is find the funds."
While Mr Dick insisted the new 750-bed hospital would be opened on time and reach full, functioning capacity, he was unable to say how the Palaszczuk Government would cover the shortfall, other than to confirm it would be a whole-of-government approach.
"What we'll do in the short term is we'll deal with this as part of the budget," he said.
Mr Dick ruled out refloating the idea of selling state-owned assets as a way to raise the required funds.
"We don't intend to sell any assets ... there'll be no change to our current plans," he said.
In Parliament yesterday Mr Dick took aim at former LNP ministers.
"There was no money to change health delivery on the Sunshine Coast ... no money to put into Caloundra Hospital, no money to put into the other hospitals like Nambour hospital on the Sunshine Coast to allow for an effective transition, again about half-a-billion dollars," he said.
"That is their legacy - a $1billion black hole."
MCARDLE SLAMS CLAIMS
CALOUNDRA MP Mark McArdle has lashed out at claims by the State Government that the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital is short almost $1 billion in funding.
Mr McArdle, the Opposition health spokesman, said he was dumbfounded as to how the Government had come up with the claim.
He said he suspected it was a ploy to prepare the region for cuts to services he predicted would be delivered in July, when Treasurer Curtis Pitt hands down his first Budget.
Mr McArdle said talk of a $1 billion shortfall was rubbish.
"These costs are included in the budget papers when they are to be incurred," he said.
"There's no way you could know at that point in time (four years ago) what the figures (operational costs) were going to be."
Mr McArdle said it was common practice to project the operational costs of similar projects in the budget a year prior to completion, when a firmer idea of operational costs was available.
He said that process had been successfully employed in the delivery of the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane and the Gold Coast University Hospital.
He said he was concerned that the Government was "playing games" with the people of the Coast.
"They are misleading the people of the Sunshine Coast," he said.
"They're clearly playing some sort of silly game ... and that's wrong."
Mr McArdle said it would have been the case had the LNP remained in power that the operational costs for the hospital would have been included in the 2016-17 budget, and that the funding for those costs would have been drawn directly from state revenue streams.
"The money would have come from revenue from the Treasury Department," he said.
"There would've been no cutting of one sector to develop another area."
Mr McArdle said he suspected it was a case of softening up residents to prepare them for what he believed would be a budget full of cuts for the region.
"It could well be that we're going to see cuts to the Sunshine Coast," he said.
"They're trying to soften the people up ... they will certainly cut back services to the hospital."
Health Minister Cameron Dick said yesterday the Newman government had displayed a lack of foresight in adequately planning for future funding.
Mr McArdle rejected that claim, saying it made more sense to deal with more concrete figures rather than risk over-compensating.
"These monies are only put into the budget in the year before they're spent and it's ridiculous to suggest otherwise," he said.
RESIDENTS who have fought tirelessly to have a new public hospital delivered in the region say they will not rest until the hospital is opened as promised.
Sunshine Coast University Hospital Action Group leader Maureen Mileham said she had not seen the full details of the purported $1 billion shortfall in operating expenses, but expressed concern about its potential impact.
"It has to go ahead as scheduled, fully functioning and without the shortfalls," Ms Mileham said.
"There's no way we will sit back and take it if that's not going to happen.
"I haven't seen too much about the shortfall yet, but I hope to goodness it gets corrected."
Ms Mileham said she was hopeful the funding would be delivered and no situation arose where either services were cut or there were changes to cost structures.
"Anything is a concern if they have to make up a shortfall," she said.
Health Minister Cameron Dick said yesterday that the State Government would deliver the funding, open the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital on time and provide all services originally promised.
Ms Mileham said: "As far as I'm concerned, they can't afford to have it not running fully functioning.
"Until that comes to fruition, we'll fight until the doors open and that's not until the end of 2016."
Asked whether she was concerned private sector companies with interests in the development would be forced to increase charges or privatise some services to make up the shortfall, Ms Mileham said she was hopeful it would not come to that.
"Lend Lease and Exemplar Health are stakeholders ... and that's fine with us provided the services that were promised are all delivered," she said.
Nambour GP and Australian Medical Association Queensland representative Wayne Herdy said the funding shortfall had been a concern since architectural designs were drawn for the development.
"We've known about this for a long time," he said.
"Hospitals of course are very expensive things to operate and teaching hospitals are extremely expensive ... it needs a higher operating budget than most."
Dr Herdy said he felt the budget black hole could negatively affect prospective universities that were considering a partnership with what would be a ground-breaking, new hospital.
"I think any tertiary educational partner would be reticent to enter into the agreement," he said.
He believed more money would be poured into the new hospital at Kawana at the expense of the Caloundra and Nambour hospitals.
"I would expect the hospital board will pour as much as they can into the new hospital ... they're probably going to prop up the Kawana hospital (SCPUH)," he said.
"I think they'll be striving to make Kawana a centre of excellence at the expense of Nambour."
LEND LEASE SAYS IT'S NOT TOO WORRIED
THE firm behind construction and some maintenance elements of the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital, Lend Lease, is not expecting drastic impacts from the reported budget shortfall.
The construction giant responsible for hard facilities maintenance in the completed hospital said it expected to see a successful hospital rollout despite the concerns aired yesterday.
Meanwhile, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service chief executive Kevin Hegarty said he had taken some comfort from Mr Dick's commitments to ensure the hospital opened on time and became a leading, educational hospital.
QUESTIONS CAST OVER UNI PARTNERSHIP
HEALTH Minister Cameron Dick admitted the funding shortfall had cast some cloud over the university partnership yet to be formalised for the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital.
"There are issues in regards to ensuring that we have an approved partner and this sort of shortfall presents challenges in regards to that ... but we are committed to ensuring it will be a university hospital," Mr Dick said.
University of the Sunshine Coast Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill said he had not seen enough of the details to comment in depth, but believed most of the impacts would be on service delivery to patients and fit-out of the hospital.