Minister agrees to drop personal private health cover amid debate

Fiona Nash was in the thick of it. Source: AAP

Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash promised to drop her private health cover while she remains in office, following heated healthcare debate on Monday’s Q&A program.

Car-accident survivor Tina Harris asked panellists on Monday night's Q&A program whether politicians should bypass private health insurance and brave the public system.

"Our public hospital system is broken and it’s getting worse," she said.

"Knowing that nothing will get done while our politicians are able to bypass the mess of public hospitals and go to wonderful private hospitals for their own health treatment, I would like to propose that politicians cannot use private health care while in office.

"In fact, I would love to see them on waiting lists for three years long and in hospitals where the toilet and wards are filthy and even privacy curtains are in short supply.

"My question is this - would you agree to use the public health system while in office?"

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King responded first by saying the Labor Party came up with agreements with the states during its time in government and when the Liberal Party came to power, it refused to honour those agreements.

"Seven billion [dollars] is being cut from our public hospital system," Ms King said.

"That is what the government has decided to do. Now that is clearly not sustainable. We have got a growing demand in our public hospitals.

"The government has got itself in a right mess when it comes to health policy. You are right — our public hospitals should be not just a safety net, but the best part of our hospital system as they can be.”

Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash fired back by claiming hospitals in rural and regional areas where fantastic, and she was "really sick and tired" of the criticism.

She then acknowledged that in some rural areas, private hospitals weren’t an option.

“Does she want me to go off private health insurance while I’m in Parliament? Sure,” she said.

Ms Nash then attacked the actions of previous Labor governments, saying: "You can't cut something that never existed. Labor’s promising about this funding were far-away imaginary promises."

"They were never budgeted for, they were never funded," Ms Nash said.

"We are increasing hospital funding by $21 — by 21.5 percent over the next four years, $3.3 billion. It is increasing, and I get a bit tired of Labor’s scare tactics talking about us cutting something that never actually existed."

Radio identity Neil Mitchell interrupted the debate by directing attention to Ms Harris in the audience

“They’re arguing over your health. This is the obscenity of it," Mr Mitchell said.

“It is a disgrace. We've been told since Kevin Rudd said 'The buck stops with me' [that] it will be fixed. Julia Gillard said the buck would be stopped with her. Would somebody pick up the buck and fix it for heaven's sake?"

The final word was had by Ms Harris who spoke directly to Ms Nash. "I would invite you, Fiona, to join me in a little visit to Melbourne, to Footscray Hospital, Sunshine Hospital, come with me and I’ll show you the areas that I mean, not the nicely cleaned up ones that you see," she said.

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