Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Australian hospital considers cutback to lung transplant program

Lung transplant cutback plan 'beggars belief'

By Kate Hagan Theage.comn.au

FEWER Victorians will receive lifesaving lung transplants if The Alfred hospital proceeds with a plan to cut the program to save costs.

Staff and patients are outraged by the proposal, which was flagged this week in emails from hospital management.

The Saturday Age understands that management has told staff it does not have enough funding to maintain services and is considering cutbacks to the lung transplant program. The hospital performs all lung transplants for Victoria and Tasmania, and has already done 61 this year. But staff have been warned that numbers may be reduced to those of previous years in which about 50 patients received transplants.

The federal government has been campaigning for more people to donate organs.

But patient groups say this is pointless unless more transplant operations are funded by state governments.

Cystic Fibrosis Victoria chief executive Stephen Murby said: ''It's unbelievable that a bureaucrat with the stroke of a pen can sentence a person to premature death.

''These patients have no choice. You transplant or you die. There is no room for economic rationalism.

''The idea that you would go back to the caseloads of five years ago just to balance the books beggars belief.''

Mr Murby said cystic fibrosis patients made up the bulk of those to receive lung transplants, which were considered for patients who were down to 20-30 per cent of total lung capacity. They needed a transplant within two years to survive.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister David Davis said Alfred Health would receive growth funding of $24 million in 2011-12 including $550,000 for transplants and $300,000 for organ retrieval. She said a parliamentary inquiry would provide advice on meeting future demand.

A spokesperson for Alfred Health said the past 18 months had seen significant growth in the number of lung transplants.

"Alfred Health is currently finalising its budget allocations and any change - if required - to the lung transplant service is yet to be determined."

A total of 147 Australians are waiting for a lung transplant, including about 53 in Victoria and Tasmania.

The Age reported in May that measures to increase donations in Victoria had stalled because hospitals could not do any more transplants.

Victoria's medical director of organ and tissue donation, Helen Opdam, said yesterday that state governments had endorsed the national campaign to lift donor rates. In February this year, all state health ministers had committed to resourcing increased transplant services.

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