The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service is one of 11 services across Queensland to record operating losses last year

February 9, 2021

The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service – responsible for all South Burnett public hospitals – was $8.679 million in the red at the end of the last financial year, a report tabled in State Parliament by the Queensland Audit Office shows.

But it was not alone … the Auditor reported 11 of the State’s 16 Hospital and Health Services reported operating losses, three more than the year before.

Darling Downs Health covers the Toowoomba, Western Downs, Southern Downs and Goondiwindi council areas as well as the South Burnett and Cherbourg, ie. a population of 283,305.

Snapshot of Darling Downs Health to June 2020:

  • Revenue – $884 million
  • Expenses – $892 million
  • Assets – $519 million
  • Liabilities – $66.8 million

The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (population 426,782, including the Gympie Regional Council area) was even further in debt, recording an operating loss of $27.02 million.

Snapshot of Sunshine Coast Health to June 2020:

  • Revenue – $1.3 billion
  • Expenses – $1.3 billion
  • Assets – $2.0 billion
  • Liabilities – $715 million

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The report noted the financial sustainability of Queensland’s 16 Hospital and Health Services (HHS) continued to decline.

Their combined operating loss in 2019-20 was $82 million (2018-19: $34 million).

“In 2019-20, employee expenses increased 8 per cent to $778 million, and are now 68 per cent of total HHS expenses,” the report stated.

“While not all of this increase was a direct result of COVID-19, it did contribute to HHSs’ increasing net costs and declining financial results.”

The blow-out in employee costs was coupled with increasing pressure from Queensland Health to improve efficiency and identify cost savings.

“With productivity dividends, the department increases the HHSs’ expected activity output without a corresponding increase in the funding they provide,” the report noted.

“The department is also implementing a new way of measuring the labour that HHSs require to deliver health services.

“Previously, the department’s analysis and reporting on HHSs’ labour excluded some elements of the workforce such as contractors, consultants and the amount of overtime HHSs incur.

“It now includes those elements, which provides a more holistic view of the workforce.

“Aiming to control labour costs, the department is using its new measure of labour to set sustainable labour targets for each HHS.

“These targets will be difficult for some HHSs to achieve while maintaining performance targets.”

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The Audit Office report recommended that:

  • Queensland Health entities should improve the efficiency of their reporting by automating manual processes, where possible
  • Resolve outstanding audit issues
  • Strengthen the security of information systems
  • Address the backlog of asset maintenance

It also recommended that service agreements be established between Queensland Health and individual Hospital and Health Services for shared services.


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