Hospital Visits a State of Emergency

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Daily Telegraph, Opinion, p. 79

If you are a parent with a sick child in the middle of the night, you shouldn’t have to think twice about whether you can afford to go to the emergency department.

Tony Abbott may have introduced a $7 GP tax — but NSW Labor is determined to never allow Premier Mike Baird to wheel the same cash registers into our public hospitals.

This week I introduced important legislation to NSW parliament to guarantee free hospital emergency visits. Most people would agree this is a basic principle of our society. Yet, Mr Baird has refused to back Labor’s laws. Health Minister Jillian Skinner even laughed in parliament yesterday and called them a “stupid political stunt”.

I know families across NSW are anxious about Tony Abbott’s GP tax. This will cover everything from blood tests to X-rays, babies needing immunisation, women worried about breast lumps and pensioners vulnerable to flu. People also know instinctively that a $7 tax will never remain at $7. It will rise to $15 or $30.

Now, the Abbott budget has invited states like NSW to combine a GP tax with an equivalent tax at the hospital emergency department — to end the possibility of free healthcare anywhere in the system.

Our doctors and nurses are meant to be saving lives, not acting as tax collectors. It’s not their job to swipe a credit card before performing emergency surgery. More importantly, the massive danger of a hospital tax is that it could deter seriously ill people from going to hospital.

Early detection of health problems saves money and lives.

Tony Abbott may have introduced a $7 GP tax — but NSW Labor is determined to never allow Premier Mike Baird to wheel the same cash registers into our public hospitals.

This week I introduced important legislation to NSW parliament to guarantee free hospital emergency visits. Most people would agree this is a basic principle of our society. Yet, Mr Baird has refused to back Labor’s laws. Health Minister Jillian Skinner even laughed in parliament yesterday and called them a “stupid political stunt”. 

I know families across NSW are anxious about Tony Abbott’s GP tax. This will cover everything from blood tests to X-rays, babies needing immunisation, women worried about breast lumps and pensioners vulnerable to flu. People also know instinctively that a $7 tax will never remain at $7. It will rise to $15 or $30.

Now, the Abbott budget has invited states like NSW to combine a GP tax with an equivalent tax at the hospital emergency department — to end the possibility of free healthcare anywhere in the system.

Our doctors and nurses are meant to be saving lives, not acting as tax collectors. It’s not their job to swipe a credit card before performing emergency surgery. More importantly, the massive danger of a hospital tax is that it could deter seriously ill people from going to hospital.

Early detection of health problems saves money and lives.

Yet many cash-strapped families might be forced to stay home, ­unaware their little girl’s earache is actually pneumonia or their son’s stomach pain is appendicitis.

Parents should never be forced to make such life or death decisions while cut off from expert hospital advice. To this day, Mr Baird has ­refused to condemn the Abbott GP tax. When asked on May 16 whether he supported a hospital tax, Mr Baird said it should be considered as part of a “broader discussion”. 

As far as I’m concerned, there is no broader discussion to be entertained. The NSW government has ­already cut $3 billion from our state’s hospitals. It has closed an entire ward at Prince of Wales Hospital. Westmead is overrun and Sutherland and St George hospitals are crying out for upgrades. Instead of owning up to their responsibility, the NSW Liberals are ready to shift more of the ­burden on to the seriously sick.

If Mr Baird truly opposes a hospital tax, he should join Labor and enshrine that principle into permanent law. A tax on hospital emergency visits must never be allowed in NSW.