Media Releases

Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

  • Health Minister badly lets hospital construction workers down with his ignorance
  • Government has been warned for months on accuracy of asbestos register
  • Fresh audits on sites need to be launched to prevent future exposure
Dangerously ill-informed Health Minister Michael Ferguson needs to immediately stop construction work in key sections of his disastrous Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment and launch fresh worksite audits after it was revealed workers had potentially been exposed to asbestos.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said confirmation today that up to 14 workers have potentially been exposed to asbestos in an area of E-Block underlined Mr Ferguson’s dangerous habit of refusing to take advice or listen to the concerns of frontline workers.
“Our first thoughts and concerns are for those workers who have potentially been exposed to hazardous material and the Minister needs to be doing everything he can to ensure they are given support,” Ms White said.
“But the simple fact is that for months now, unions representing workers at the site have been telling the government that the asbestos register is not accurate.
“By refusing to listen – just as he has with staff in the emergency department who have been warning him that the bed shortage has reached a crisis stage – he has caused a critical breakdown in the system and is putting workers at risk.
“To prevent against future exposures each site should have a fresh audit before work commences.
“Labor presented a petition to the Parliament last year calling for this to happen but the Government did not listen.
“Additionally Mr Ferguson needs to immediately explain how testing procedures which he claimed initially had returned negative results could have been so badly botched.
“Minister Ferguson also needs to explain why he continues to blame everyone but himself for the continuing mistakes.
“Why is it that every time there is a mishap at the site, the Minister forces others to keep Tasmanians informed while he is nowhere to be seen?”
  • Royal Hobart and Launceston General under unprecedented pressure
  • Outpatient waiting lists continue to spiral
  • No action from government despite on-going pleas from frontline staff
Tasmania’s hospitals are under enormous and growing strain as the Hodgman Government continues to ignore health professionals whose pleas to the Health Minister to increase resources fall on deaf ears.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said the situation at both the Royal Hobart and Launceston General Hospitals has reached a true crisis point.
“Under Health Minister Michael Ferguson, Tasmanians have never seen their hospitals under such unprecedented – and unnecessary – pressure,” Ms White said.
“Tasmanians have never seen a situation where frontline medical staff are taking the serious step of speaking out so they can be heard because Minister Ferguson refuses to listen.
“Medical staff and patients have been badly let down by Mr Ferguson who has ignored many months of warning that the Royal Hobart Hospital was headed toward a chronic bed shortage.
“Both the Royal and the Launceston General Hospital are now seriously under-resourced and despite what is clear to everyone who works in the system and to patients, Mr Ferguson continues to ignore them.
“Clinicians are speaking up on a daily basis to warn the Government about serious problems within the hospital system.
“More and more staff members at the LGH are actively warning the government about the enormous pressure the hospital is under including today when they have slammed the lack of services available for Tasmanians living with diabetes.
“The Hodgman Government made enormous promises to the Tasmanian people about improving our hospital system but things are going backwards.”
Ms White said information from the government’s latest health statistics update reveals the outpatient waiting list continues to grow both at the LGH and the RHH.
At the LGH between October 2015 and September 2016 the outpatient waiting list grew by 1489 patients to 11,266 – an increase of 15 per cent over the 12 month period.
At the RHH between October 2015 and September 2016, the outpatient waiting list grew by 876 patients to 15,022, a six per cent increase.
RHH waiting times for outpatients continue to increase.  Across all categories there has been a 39-day increase over the past 12 months taking the waiting time up to 424 days
“Mr Ferguson needs to act once and for all,” Ms White said.
“It’s not good enough to say things will change in the coming weeks. Staff and patients by now fully understand that is typical of Mr Ferguson’s all-talk no-action style and they require action today.”
  • Minister had ample warning on chronic bed shortage
  • Patients now being treated in waiting areas
  • Ferguson has no solution to intolerable situation for staff and patients
Royal Hobart Hospital medical staff and patients have yet again been badly let down by Health Minister Michael Ferguson who has ignored months of warnings about an impending chronic bed shortage.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said despite having months of warning that the demolition of the hospital’s B Block would place staff in real danger of being unable to cope with demand, Mr Ferguson had failed to put a plan in place and the hospital was now chronically under-resourced.
“The situation at the Royal Hobart Hospital – with patients being interviewed in waiting areas because staff have been left unable to cope with demand – is just unacceptable,” Ms White said.
“For many, many months now Mr Ferguson has been warned that once demolition began, beds would be reduced but he has failed to heed those warnings.
“Nurses and doctors and other frontline staff are now extremely concerned that they have been left unable to provide patients with the care they need.
“They are upset that they are not being listened to as doctors continue to tell the Minister that even during a relatively quiet period through January the hospital has been unable to cope.
“This Minister has left them in an untenable situation.
“The message to Michael Ferguson could not be clearer – the hospital is in crisis because of his mismanagement.
“Once and for all he needs to start listening to those people on the frontline who have been badly let down and now need to be provided with the resources they need to treat the patients in their care.
“Today he has announced a vague promise to address the situation in coming weeks.
“That’s not good enough. The Minister needs to actually meet with hospital staff today, listen to them and act.”
  • Tasmanian hospitals under extreme pressure
  • Michael Ferguson only interested in patting himself on the back
  • Staff must be listened to
Health Minister Michael Ferguson needs to start working with staff in Tasmania’s health system, rather than bragging about himself.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said the Minister is in denial about the challenges facing our hospitals.
“There’s such a big difference between Michael Ferguson’s spin and the real story in Tasmania’s hospitals,” Ms White said.
“Staff are under extreme pressure, dealing with everything from bed blockages to broken air conditioners.
“But the Minister continues to pat himself on the back for the job he’s doing without acknowledging any of the problems.
“Patients waiting too long in our hospitals know the Minister’s version of the story isn’t true.”
  • Minister must start paying attention to workers at the coalface
  • Pleas for action to prevent beds crisis falling on Ferguson’s deaf ears
  • Minister had more than two years to plan and failed to put safety strategy in place
Ignorant Health Minister Michael Ferguson is disregarding the genuine concerns of frontline nursing staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital about a looming beds crisis so completely that they have launched their own campaign.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said it was shameful that the on-going debacle around Mr Ferguson’s hospital redevelopment had reached the point where nursing staff have had to take matters into their own hands.
“Michael Ferguson can see that staff are so distressed and so worried that they have launched their Wear Red To Save A Bed campaign,” Ms White said.
“Michael Ferguson can see that demand at the hospital is increasing at the same time beds are decreasing.
“This Minister can see that patients are waiting up to 40 hours in the Emergency Department to be assigned a bed.
“He knows that there will be a reduction of beds during a decant of patients later this month in preparation for the demolition of B Block, pushing nursing staff to breaking point.
“But he still refuses to listen and he still refuses to admit that he has got it so badly wrong.
“What’s so startling about this alarming situation is that Mr Ferguson has had more than two years to plan for the decant of patients and the demolition of hospital wards.
“But there has been no planning for safe patient care and there has been no strategy around how to cope with a reduction in hospital beds.
“He simply cannot be allowed to continue to ignore the frontline which is pleading with him for a solution.
“He cannot be allowed to continue to tell the Tasmanian community that he knows best when the crisis is clear to everyone who works at the hospital and everyone who depends on it for medical care.
“The genuine concerns of nursing staff and the fact they have had to go to the length of launching a campaign so they can finally be heard should be more than enough to make Mr Ferguson finally listen and should be ringing loud alarm bells for the Premier and his government.”
  • Both Health and Workplace Safety Ministers dodge questions on asbestos exposure
  • Hospital staff and construction workers must be subject to appropriate protocols
  • Ferguson refuses to say if hospital staff in dust scares have received correct advice

Mystery surrounds the Hodgman Liberal Government’s treatment of Royal Hobart Hospital health staff and construction workers in the fallout of potential exposure to asbestos – specifically whether protocols have been followed in referring them to the National Asbestos Register.

Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said both the Health Minister Michael Ferguson and Building and Construction Minister Guy Barnett had today dodged questions in State Parliament about appropriate protocols for staff potentially exposed to the dangerous fibres in a series of mishaps at the RHH redevelopment.

“We know there have been three separate incidents in the past month – one of them involving 40 administration and clinical staff – but what we don’t know is what the government and Mr Ferguson are doing to look after the staff in their care,” Ms White said.

“In all circumstances when people are potentially exposed to asbestos, they should be automatically referred to the National Asbestos Register which is designed to keep records of Australians in the event of future illnesses.

“Yet today when directly asked if health staff at the hospital involved in exposure incidents had been referred to the Register, Mr Ferguson could not – or would not – answer.

“Similarly, when asked directly if construction workers of the joint venture partner on the project had been referred to the Register, Mr Barnett could not – or would not – answer.

“If these staff have not been referred, that’s a disgraceful breach of the trust placed in Mr Ferguson to protect and care for health workers.

“We believe, having spoken to a number of staff involved, that they have not been placed on the register.

“We know that the first incidences of construction workers exposed to asbestos occurred in August last year and there have been at least five more since and if Mr Barnett is unaware of that it’s equally disgraceful.”

Ms White urged any worker who believed they had been exposed to asbestos to make enquiries with the National Asbestos Register at:

  • 112 workers at Longford abattoir temporarily stood down
  • Liberal Government must provide support to workers and their families

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Rebecca White has called on the Liberal Government to support workers at JBS at Longford.

112 workers at the abattoir will be stood down as the business deals with a nationwide livestock shortage.

“This is a devastating blow for the workers and their families,” Ms White said.

“Even the temporary loss of employment puts enormous pressure on someone. I hope the abattoir can return to full production as soon as possible.

“The State Government must do everything it can to support workers and their families through this uncertain period.

“The opposition has been in contact with both the company and the union to offer our support.

“I thank JBS for its willingness to engage and keep the lines of communication open. It’s so important that workers have a clear picture of the situation.

“The previous state government worked closely with agencies like Centrelink to help workers and their families through similar situations to this.

“The Liberal Government must be proactive and compassionate.” 

  • Third incident in two weeks shows on-going situation requires audit on safeguards
  • Ferguson still missing in action on adequate explanation for Tasmanians

Yet another incident involving potential exposure to asbestos at the Royal Hobart Hospital shows Health Minister Michael Ferguson has failed to implement adequate safeguards to protect patients and staff.

Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said the third incident in a fortnight involving potential exposure to asbestos should be a wake-up call to the Minister and the government that a thorough audit needed to be carried out around the much-delayed redevelopment and across the hospital.

“Now that we have witnessed the third incident – this time when dust fell on an intensive care patient – it’s time for Mr Ferguson to get hands-on and at least attempt to get to the bottom of the situation at the hospital,” Ms White said.

“It’s not good enough that there do not appear to be appropriate and uniform controls in place regarding safe work practices to protect patients and staff.

“It’s not good enough that Michael Ferguson has consistently left it up to bureaucrats and departmental staff to explain the situation when as Health Minister, he should be stepping up to take responsibility and explain to Tasmanians what is happening at their hospital.

“Without offering any assurance Tasmanians are right to believe Mr Ferguson is hiding away from what is a very worrying on-going situation and they want answers.

“Nobody wants to see patients and staff exposed to asbestos and it’s a huge relief that preliminary testing in this latest incident has shown asbestos was not present in air samples.

“But Mr Ferguson owes patients and staff and all Tasmanians a satisfactory explanation around the entire situation.”

  • Community concerns too important for government to ignore
  • Critical questions remain around cloud seeding operation on eve of floods

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Rebecca White has urged the Government to listen to the growing calls for an independent inquiry into cloud seeding.

“The community concern is too big for the Liberal Government to ignore,” Ms White said.

“Farmers want a fresh, independent assessment of why Hydro was cloud seeding on the eve of major flooding events across the state and whether it had an impact.

“The call is backed by a large number of community leaders and the Premier and Energy Minister should be listening.

“Hydro’s internal report into its activity has not satisfied the Tasmanian community.

“Hydro itself recognises the need for a more detailed review.

“The new Federal Members for Braddonand Lyons, Justine Keay and Brian Mitchell, have shown leadership in calling for an independent inquiry and they have the strong backing of state Labor.

“Will Hodgman and Matthew Groom should immediately establish an independent investigation.” 

  • Health Minister tries sneaky tactic yet again on hospital safety
  • Ferguson must provide honest safety assessment for staff and patients

Cagey Health Minister Michael Ferguson waited until he had been questioned over the latest asbestos scare at the Royal Hobart Hospital before he came clean with Tasmanians.

Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care Rebecca White said while the latest asbestos scare was flagged in D Block at the hospital on Wednesday, Mr Ferguson waited until he was questioned by the media on Thursday afternoon before he elected to make the alarming find public.

“Yet again we see this highly secretive, sneaky and underhanded Minister attempt to keep a worrying and potentially dangerous situation from the Tasmanian public,” Ms White said.

“Yet again we see Mr Ferguson attempt to keep staff and patients in the dark when he should be doing everything he can to assure them around the situation.

“Why did it take enquiries from the media before he elected to make a public announcement?

“It’s the staff and the patients and the general public who will be concerned about their potential exposure to asbestos and it’s those same people who expect and deserve this Minister to be honest with them – they don’t expect him to play silly and secretive games.

“This latest scare is very concerning - just as last week’s find was – and what’s just as concerning is that in both instances Mr Ferguson had ample opportunity to keep Tasmanians informed and on both occasions he failed dismally.

“Under his watch, the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment has become a disaster zone but rather than hide and hope nobody will find out when incidents occur, Mr Ferguson has an obligation as the Minister in charge of Tasmania’s health system to be upfront.

“My genuine concern is for the staff and patients and I trust that Mr Ferguson has directed his department to provide them with timely and fulsome information.

“There’s no excuse for his continued behaviour to keep them in the dark.”

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