The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:17): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Health and Wellbeing a question regarding SA Pathology.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: I understand the government has set SA Pathology a savings target of $45 million to achieve by the financial year 2022. I further understand that, if efficiencies are not achieved, the government may consider privatising this service. My questions to the minister are:
1. If pathology services are privatised, how will the government protect consumers from unreasonable price increases or loss of services?
2. Will the government be responsible for setting the fees and charges of pathology services if privatisation occurs?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:18): I thank the honourable member for his question and for his commitment to South Australian health services. To clarify the honourable member's question, the government has not said that SA Pathology will be privatised if efficiencies are not achieved. As part of the 2018-19 state budget, the Marshall Liberal government asked SA Pathology to find efficiencies, noting that, with the devolution of health governance to local boards, if efficiencies are not achieved then local boards could choose to seek alternative providers.
It might be useful for the council to put this budget measure in its historical context. In 2014, the former Labor government commissioned Ernst and Young to review SA Pathology services. Their report, delivered in 2014, made a number of recommendations, including cutting 332 FTE from SA Pathology. There was also discussion at that time of privatising country pathology services. It took then minister Snelling until mid-February 2015 to rule out privatising country services. Labor in opposition accuses us of what they were considering doing in government. Projection does not make it true. Labor's hypocrisy does not define this government. But that's not the end of Labor's hypocrisy on SA Pathology.
Following the Ernst and Young report, and without releasing any of the data underlying the review to staff or even management, Labor developed their efficiency improvement program, or EIP, in 2015. Under the EIP, Labor aimed to cut 200 FTE from SA Pathology and Labor began the consolidation of non-essential services. Staff and employee representative organisations were not engaged in this process. It was high-handed Labor top-down, ignoring the wellbeing of the very workers they now claim to stand beside.
In August 2017, then minister Snelling paused the EIP until after the 2018 state election. On 7 August 2017, Professionals Australia conceded that further job cuts might be necessary and agreed to work with the then Labor government to find those efficiencies. Sarah Andrews of Professionals Australia said at the time, and I quote:
I think invariably when you introduce new technologies to the workforce, efficiencies can be gained, and we're happy to be part of the working party to oversee that process.
In contrast with Labor, the Marshall Liberal government has not set out to privatise country practices. We have commissioned a review of SA Pathology services by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In contrast to Labor's Ernst and Young review, the Marshall Liberal government has committed to ensuring the data behind the review is released to staff and employee representative bodies. The PricewaterhouseCoopers review will inform the discussion about where efficiencies can be pursued within SA Pathology.
Also in contrast to Labor, the Marshall Liberal government has sought to engage staff and employee representative bodies. So, in answer to the honourable member's question, the government has not decided to privatise SA Pathology. As I said, if efficiencies are not met, local boards will be free to seek alternative providers.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:21): Supplementary arising from the answer: you made a statement just then that you will be consulting with staff about the review. When will that occur?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:21): It's ongoing. I will underscore the fact, too, that, even while the PricewaterhouseCoopers review is going on, SA Pathology has continued to have discussions with their staff about efficiency measures that it was working on. SA Pathology had efficiency measures before the PricewaterhouseCoopers report started, and they are continuing to work on those.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:22): Supplementary: if your review does come back highlighting that regional services should be privatised, will you, like the Labor government, rule out privatising regional services?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:22): As I said, we are committing to SA Pathology pursuing efficiencies. If SA Pathology can pursue efficiencies, then local boards will not be given the opportunity to seek alternative providers. My understanding is that the Treasurer has given assurance to employee organisations that, if the efficiencies can be delivered, alternative providers won't be sought.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:23): So you will not rule out privatising regional SA Pathology services?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:23): The member seeks to put words in my mouth. What I will say is: we are committed to what we committed to in the budget, which is continuing to pursue efficiencies within SA Pathology. Both SA Medical Imaging and SA Pathology are pursuing efficiencies, and that work will continue, particularly in relation to SA Pathology, informed by outcomes of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:23): Supplementary: what guarantees can the minister give that the efficiencies sought won't result in an overall reduction in servicing and what steps are you putting in place to make sure that doesn't happen?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:24): Sorry: was it a reduction in services?
The Hon. J.E. HANSON: Services.
The Hon. S.G. WADE: The whole goal is to deliver services to our patients. My understanding is that 70 per cent of health diagnoses are supported by accessing pathology. You can be sure that South Australian hospitals will continue to use pathology services. We have put efficiency targets in for SA Pathology, no different to the previous government. We are determined to make sure that we have quality, safe services for SA Health's public patients, and I have no doubt that we will continue to purchase pathology services. It may well be, as I said, that if the efficiencies can't be achieved within SA Pathology, local boards will be given the opportunity to source from alternative providers, but they still need to get the services. SA Health services will continue to need pathology services.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:25): Is there a private provider in South Australia that can currently provide the same service as SA Pathology?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:25): I don't know if the honourable member is asking me whether I am about to sell SA Pathology to a private company because they can provide all those services. The answer is no. We are doing what we said, which is that SA Pathology will be given an opportunity to pursue efficiencies. If they can't be delivered, then local boards will have the opportunity to seek alternative providers.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Bourke, a further supplementary.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:26): I would just like the minister to answer the question. Is there a private provider that can provide the same service as SA Pathology?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:26): I am happy to take it on notice, but my assumption would be that the answer is no.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Hanson, do you have a further supplementary?
The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:26): Has the minister any insight as to whether the PricewaterhouseCoopers report will provide information to him about how its services will not be affected by reductions in the amount and the efficiencies that they are seeking to obtain?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:26): This question relates to the member's previous question. I have no reason to think that Price Waterhouse Coopers will be looking at reducing the supply of pathology services into the health system. My understanding is that it is focused on efficiencies. In terms of whether or not we would improve health services by even increasing pathology services, I imagine that would be a matter for the purchaser, for the local health networks that are looking at how best to deliver health services.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Bonaros, a supplementary.
The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:27): Has the minister, or to his knowledge the Treasurer, received any requests for meetings by Public Pathology Australia to discuss this issue pending the outcome of the PwC review?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:27): I have certainly had approaches from people representing Public Pathology services. I will certainly take on notice the question from the member. I should make clear that some meetings are held with myself, some meetings are held by my main ministerial advisers and some are held by the department.
The PRESIDENT: Before I give the call to the next member, can honourable members be mindful when asking supplementaries that you cannot ask a hypothetical question. Some of those questions came very close, if not were hypothetical. The minister can be asked questions, obviously, on the original answer, but not necessarily on matters that are outside the realm of his responsibilities. The Hon. Ms Bourke, your question.