Can't pay the bills

THE NORTH Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) is slashing full time jobs and reducing expenditure in an effort to fit within budget and pay outstanding fees.

Yesterday, The Daily Telegraph reported the NCAHS owed $25.8 million in 10,254 unpaid bills at December 31 last year.

A NCAHS spokeswoman said the figures were out of date and the health service had already paid creditors $146 million this year, reduced its expenditure and increased revenue to balance the budget.

In particular, the NCAHS has reduced staffing levels by 400 full time equivalent positions, including 34 at Grafton Base Hospital and five at Maclean District Hospital.

She did not confirm how much the NCAHS still owed in unpaid bills, but said since the figures referred to in The Daily Telegraph were provided the NCAHS had reduced the amount of creditor payments over benchmark.

“NCAHS, like other area health services and the economy generally, is facing challenging economic times,” she said. “By balancing its budget, NCAHS will be able to pay its creditors more quickly.”

She said the NCAHS gave particular attention to paying local and smaller suppliers, and monitored the situation weekly.

Despite the assurances, NSW Business Chamber Northern Rivers regional manger Sharon Cadwallader slammed the State Government for its tardiness in paying bills.

She said the government needed to set an example and pay its bill on time.

“Local businesses are doing it tough at the moment with the economy slowing,” she said.

“They need to secure their cash flow so they can pay their own bills and pay their employees.”

Health Minister John Della Bosca's spokesman did not comment on the NCAHS in particular, but said the Government had set up a special taskforce to help health services make changes to keep within budget. He said there was also stronger monitoring of creditors.

“NSW Health has also made additional funding available to pay creditors while the health services bring their budgets back into line,” he said.

Clarence State MP Steve Cansdell encouraged Clarence Valley businesses with outstanding NCAHS bills to contact him.

“I would be quite happy to help on their behalf,” he said.

“I'm happy to do so with complete confidentiality, as I have done in the past.”

Mr Cansdell said he previously intervened with a small business that the NCAHS owed $25,000 and the amount was paid two days after he began inquiries.

He said he was concerned some small, local businesses could be struggling because of unpaid NCAHS bills.

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