A report released by the NSW Auditor-General yesterday, shows that North Coast Area Health Services owed $21.5 million to creditors at the end of the last financial year.
A report released by the NSW Auditor-General yesterday, shows that North Coast Area Health Services owed $21.5 million to creditors at the end of the last financial year.

North Coast Health $25m deficit

NORTH Coast Area Health struggled to pay its bills last financial year, with the amount owed to creditors hitting $21.5 million at the end of June.

The figures, released yesterday in a report by the NSW Auditor-General, also showed NCAHS’ deficit was more than $25 million.

Chief executive Chris Crawford admitted it had been a difficult year with the NCAHS reducing the deficit with a number of cost-cutting initiatives..

“We we have done an awful lot to try and respond to it,” he said.

“Now, in December, the amount we owe to creditors is less than $5 million. Of course we want to get that down to zero.”

Mr Crawford said the health service had implemented a budget recovery plan with ‘15-odd strategies’ aimed at reducing the deficit.

One of those is to controversially cut 400 jobs across NCAHS.

“Our principle strategy is to reduce our staff. We’ve reduced numbers by 280 so far, but we still have some work to do,” Mr Crawford said.

“It is not slash and burn – it is a consultative and targeted approach.”

Other cost-cutting measures include using drugs more wisely, and assessing ambulance use.

Mr Crawford said clinical assessments would be done prior to transfers between hospitals to decide whether patients actually needed to be taken in ambulances.

“Ambulances are very expensive to operate. Obviously if someone needs one, they will go in one,” he said.

“We’ve also been to every hospital to see how we can be more efficient.

“We’ve now got a budget sub-committee that meets every week. We’re trying to save about $30 million.”

But Mr Crawford was adamant the budget-saving measures would not affect the quality of patient care.

“We monitor things like falls, bed sores, return to theatre, readmissions and patient feedback,” he said.

Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat’s report also found 28.6 per cent of all NCAHS equipment was past its use-by date.

Almost $8 million of assets were written off during an internal review in 2008/09, but none posed a risk to patient or staff safety.

Every area health service met the benchmarks for treating ‘immediately life threatening situations’.

But North Coast Area Health failed to meet benchmarks in three of the five triage categories, including the one for imminently life threatening situations. This required 80 per cent of patients to be treated within 10 minutes. NCAHS treated 77 per cent of patients in that timeframe.

However Mr Crawford said a new electronic system meant that a lot of data had not been recorded correctly.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the report highlighted the government’s ‘mismanagement of the health system’.



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