Two weeks ago I wrote about my concern regarding reductions to Victoria’s public health budget, beginning with $107 million by the end of this financial year. As the Federal and State governments argue about whose fault the funding shortfall is, hospitals are starting to make cuts that have real effects on staff, services and patients.

The first of these plans involved rural hospitals, where services are already stretched because of distance and poor resources – in what I believe is an unprecedented move, CEO’s from Northern Health, Swanhill and Bendigo Health spoke about their concerns about the impact of these cuts on their communities.

Today some 200 ANF (Vic. branch) members held a meeting at the Royal Melbourne Hospital to discuss budget and service cuts; to begin, these look like targeting elective surgeries, even though Victoria’s elective list, based on most recent figures, is now 46,131 – a blow out of 7,000 patients since Premier Baillieu took office in 2010. That figure, incidentally, is from the May-June quarter, at July-September has not been released, although it’s nearly the end of December. Cutting elective surgeries also jeopardises future Federal funding, which is contingent of Victoria making pre-agreed targets.

However, as I pointed out a fortnight ago, what makes me feel uncharacteristically conspiracy-minded, is the coincidence between the figures the Victoria public health system is facing, and the figures promised by Victorian Health Minister David Davis in his leaked Cabinet-in-confidence document – $104 million in the first year (compared with $107 million by the end of the current financial year); $473 million over four years (and now $475 million).

In a letter to members I received after I wrote that post, ANF (Vic. branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick posed questions that needed answering – why do the Federal and State funding figures for 2012-2013 differ by $455 million? Why won’t the State government detail how funds are apportioned to each service?  How can funding be changed retrospectively, mid-year?

Is it just a coincidence that the $475 million over four years that the Baillieu Government says the Federal Government has cut from its health funding is almost the same amount as the $473 million over four years that the Baillieu Government’s cabinet-in-confidence document, signed by Health Minister David Davis in May 2011, planned to cut from the hospital budget?

Perhaps it is just coincidence. But after seeing the attempts NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell attempted to make to legislation around Enterprise Bargaining Agreements – changes that would see NSW nurses and midwives lose the ratios 4,000 of them went on strike for – I can’t help but worry that this government will try to take by stealth what they couldn’t force us to give up in an unprecedented campaign.

In a year, eleven months, a week and two days Victorians go to the polls – but that may be too late for our public hospitals, for our nurses and midwives, and for the hundreds of patients who will miss out on care, potentially at the loss of their lives.