For five years my electorate has been promised a new hospital. Even though the former member for Maitland was a Minister during the first term of this Government, we still got no further on the matter. In the fifty-fourth Parliament—Labor's last term in office—a $10 million upgrade to the Maitland Hospital emergency department was undertaken. That funding delivered 13 new treatment spaces, 12 new beds, and 300 jobs during the construction phase. It was an important project for our community, which has been experiencing high unemployment in the past year.
The Baird Government has done nothing for the health sector in Maitland for more than five years. Members opposite have sat on their hands. All we have is a $6 million sign on Metford Road and more money spent on planning. It has been nearly six years, yet no time frame has been provided for the commencement of building works. In the past five years code reds have been applied to Maitland due to the lack of health funding in our community. Today the Newcastle Herald has reported that people are now waiting up to three years for a first appointment with their specialist. The paper says it has been told by a specialist at Maitland that specialists will take on only two public patients per year—just two.
According to the Newcastle Herald, staff at the John Hunter Hospital ear, nose and throat outpatient clinic told a patient recently that they were not accepting new referrals, except for urgent cases. The 74-year-old patient agreed to see a private specialist but, despite being willing and able to pay for treatment, the patient was told that the doctor does not accept anyone who is not privately insured. It is an absolute disgrace. The patient was told to try to get an appointment on the Central Coast or in Sydney.
The patient was also advised that the outpatient clinic is not accepting adult referrals and that there was a three-year wait for children to see ear, nose and throat specialists. For children who are at critical points in their education that is an abomination. According to the paper, one Hunter specialist who did not wish to be named, said the wait lists were abhorrent. The paper was told, "We seem to be chasing our tails to get wait list reductions, and most of the KPIs apply only to surgical wait times. If you are a kid not hearing and falling behind at school, that's a real society problem that we need to address."
The former member for Maitland and the Department of Health promised that the new hospital at Maitland would be a "John Hunter-sized" tertiary hospital. If such a hospital had been built it would be taking the stress off waiting lists at our health facilities. Instead of a major tertiary public hospital in addition to the existing public hospital—which the Government wants to close—we are left with unseen and unformulated plans for a rural referral public-private partnership hospital with a helipad. The helipad will be needed to take complex cases to other hospitals. With the current waiting lists at John Hunter, it is unlikely those patients will be able to go there.
I will now outline some of the current waiting times at John Hunter Hospital and the increases over the past year. In 2014 there were 242 people waiting for ear, nose and throat general appointments. That has blown out to 401, which is an increase of 66 per cent. For ear, nose and throat tonsillectomies 67 people were waiting in 2014. That figure has risen to 122, which is a blowout of 82 per cent. In 2014 some 166 people were waiting for hip replacements. Now 243 people are on the waiting list, which is an increase of 46 per cent. The number of people waiting for a knee replacement has increased from 232 in 2014 to 274, which is an increase of 18 per cent.
The overall total number of patients waiting for an ear, nose and throat specialist appointment is about 4,600, including approximately 1,500 children. That is 1,500 children who are not getting enough sleep, are likely to be taking time off school due to illnesses and may be having problems with their academic progress. The ear, nose and throat unit is dealing with only 60 referrals per week. That is appalling. The Government needs to take action to reduce waiting times for health services in our community.
The best thing the Government can do is what the Minister for Health promised to do back in 2014, with the then member for Maitland standing beside her. I believe the Minister has not attended my electorate since that time, certainly not since I have been the member. Government members must do more than make promises. They must deliver the hospital they originally said they would build and not offer up some half-baked, half-sized excuse for a hospital that has no construction time frames and is only a fantasy.