SPEAKING ON A BILL | HEALTH LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (QUALITY AND SAFETY) BILL 2017
Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan): I rise to speak on the Health Legislation Amendment (Quality and Safety) Bill 2017. The bill we are discussing today goes to the core of what ought to be a priority of our health system, our health services and our hospitals: that they are safe. It is as simple as that. That is the purpose of the bill — to provide the best quality and safety for our patients and for our doctors and to make sure a first–class service is provided to Victorian patients. The history behind why this bill has been implemented is that, following the catastrophic series of failures that led to unthinkable tragedies involving preventable stillbirths and deaths of newborn babies at Djerriwarrh Health Services, a review was ordered by the Minister of Health, the Honourable Jill Hennessy. This government is committed to ensuring that those events never, ever happen again.
The bill delivers on key recommendations from Dr Stephen Duckett’s review of quality and safety in Victorian hospitals. My understanding is that there is further legislation to come to basically implement all the recommendations of Dr Duckett’s review. One of the first areas the review outlined was in relation to the governance of various boards as part of looking at the current system and basically looking at what is best practice in relation to board composition, particularly tenure. The review recommends a cap of nine years on board tenure. It is actually quite common as best practice in large corporations and various companies around the country and around the world to have some sort of limited tenure on boards. You cannot be a member of the same board for 20 years, for example; that is why we unfortunately run into complacency and start facing issues in relation to governance and so forth. So one of the recommendations was to create a limited tenure of nine years.
The legislation states clearly that that does not necessarily impact on existing board members. If someone, for example, is currently serving nine years and they have got two years to run, they are not affected. It is basically talking about going forward. If a person has already served six years but is due for renewal or for a new appointment, that still can occur, but they are basically looking at a nine–year tenure, which I think is an excellent recommendation. I know members on the other side in the other place raised some issues in relation to that, but I think they were really unfounded.
The second area in relation to governance goes to various regional hospitals where currently board members are primarily volunteers, and now we will have legislation in place to strengthen these boards by looking at recognising the good work that is done by these volunteers, by looking at providing additional training and by looking at having those positions as paid positions as well. We do value the contributions these board members make in country and regional Victoria.
The next point in relation to this legislation is about cracking down on dangerous and unregulated private providers, which is another area that was highlighted by the review. At the moment if surgery is less than 50 per cent of the activities of a cosmetic facility, for example, it is not regulated, and this bill closes that loophole, ensuring that private providers meet quality and safety standards even if the dangerous activity is a small part of their practice.
The bill also will allow action in response to unsafe practices in the private healthcare sector by introducing an ongoing obligation on private services to be safe, appropriate and subject to continuous improvement. So the whole thing about this bill is about continuous improvement and making sure we are continuing to deliver a first–class health system. It is expected that we will do this, particularly as federal and state taxpayers money goes into the health sector to provide that first–class service, and I think this is the least we can do. This bill goes a long way to making sure we do that and puts in place that oversight to make sure that private providers are subjected to the same strict compliance as public hospitals and big hospitals.
The bill will enable effective oversight of private healthcare providers. The bill will require that health and safety information be regularly reported to the department, and it introduces an obligation on private providers to notify the secretary of serious risks to patient health and safety. The secretary will also be empowered to issue a direction requiring private providers to hand over quality and safety information upon request. This may be used to obtain information about an outbreak or to follow up on any red flags raised by regular data collected from the service.
The bill will ensure that all public and private hospitals, regardless of size or location, are held to the same high standards of quality and safety. Victorians should have confidence in our healthcare system, no matter what part of the state they come from. I think it is very important if we are living in a First World country like ours that people should have confidence that when they use the services in our health system, whether it is private or public, they will receive first–class service. Anything less than that is unacceptable.
The other area of the bill is about making sure quality and safety become part of the culture of the health system and the service. So the bill will amend the objectives of the Health Services Act 1988, the Ambulance Services Act 1986 and the Mental Health Act 2014 to reinforce the centrality of quality and safety of our healthcare system and also put beyond doubt that ministerial and secretarial intervention can and should take place in the event that quality and safety concerns are uncovered.
The bill builds on the work the Andrews Labor government has put in place over the last three years. A lot of investments are going into improving our current system, and that is why in the current 2017 budget $215 million was added to the Victorian budget. That is in addition to almost $17 million invested in strengthening oversight of quality and safety across Victorian health services in the current budget. This is about making sure the framework is put in place to provide the best quality and safety for patients and for our citizens, making sure the system is right, making sure all the oversight is put in place but also backing that up with adequate investments. I think this government is doing just that. With these comments I commend the bill to the house.
17 October 2017