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A healthy deficit

Wednesday, 20th December, 2017

Dr Andrew Refshauge (left) and Stephen Rodwell at the Far West Local Health District’s annual public meeting on Monday. Dr Andrew Refshauge (left) and Stephen Rodwell at the Far West Local Health District’s annual public meeting on Monday.

By Andrew Robertson

Seventeen consecutive quarters of unblemished audits was proof the Far West Local Health District was heading in the right direction, according to its chairman.

The health district has this week released its year in review report and financial statements which show a $2.26 million operating deficit for 2016/17.   

An even larger loss of $2.9m is forecast this financial year but FWLHD chairman Dr Andrew Refshauge said the results were within “tolerances” set by the NSW Ministry of Health.

He said that, importantly, the health service was able to show that it was spending the money it received in the appropriate areas.

“We’re obviously trying to get a balanced budget but there is an understanding, especially when there are capital works coming through, that at different stages you will be slightly above, other times slightly below,” said Dr Refshauge, who addressed the health district’s annual public meeting on Monday.

“Talking to the ministry about what is happening and understanding how we’re spending the money is probably giving them the assurance that the money that we’re being provided is being spent wisely.”

While the health service may not have been expected to deliver a surplus or even balanced budget, Dr Refshauge said it still needed to ensure it continued to look for efficiencies and “how we can do things better”.

It’s been a tumultuous 12 months for the health district which saw four of its board members summarily sacked by then health minister Jillian Skinner in October last year following a governance review.

Then board chairman Tom Hynes resigned earlier this year and was closely followed by former chief executive Stuart Riley.

Monday’s meeting heard highlights for the year included the health district’s successful School Based Traineeship program and capital works projects, including the $30 million Community Health Centre development.

New Chief Executive Stephen Rodwell said modules would begin arriving at the Crystal Street site by mid next month and the midyear completion date remained on track.

Staff housing in Wilcannia, Tibooburra, White Cliffs and Wentworth was also being improved, while a new health facility was planned for Dareton/Buronga along with an upgrade to Tibooburra’s facility.

Improving relations with aboriginal health care provider Maari Ma was a stated focus of Dr Refshauge when he took over as chairman in June.

This week he conceded the relationship with Marri Ma “wasn’t working as well as we wanted”.

But the two have since signed a new service agreement after the previous one lapsed.

“The most important thing we have is trust and I think to some degree we needed to raise that level of trust,” Dr Refshauge said.

“We needed to look at both sides fix up the problems on our side and recognise what they needed on their side, and with new people in you’ve got an opportunity to do that. 

“I think with new people you have different approaches and that in itself can often solve things that have been problems for others before.”

He said the nation still had a big challenge ahead reducing the illness rate of aboriginal people and increasing their life expectancy and participation rates. 

“Health isn’t the only service that can be important in that but we have a very important role to play and we shouldn’t be shirking our responsibility, and I think if this stays a focus with people then we’re going to get some very worthwhile improvements.”

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