A controversy is brewing in the Victorian state of Australia following a decision to slash lung transplants in the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne.
The cutback was effected after an influx of transplant surgeries put a strain on staff and resources, a hospital spokesman said. Recent weeks have seen an exceptionally high clinical workload in the adult lung-transplant program, he noted.
"With both the quality of treatment and safety of our patients as a priority, our clinical team have recommended that the hospital lighten its adult lung transplant activity for two weeks while the demands on the service equalise from record levels of transplant."
The hospital performs 50 per cent of all lung transplants in the country and has already done 61 this year. A total of 147 Australians are waiting for a lung transplant, including about 53 in Victoria and Tasmania. Most of the patients have cystic fibrosis - a life-threatening disease that clogs people's lungs with thick, sticky mucus.
While Ms. Catherine King, the federal parliamentary secretary for Health, dubbed the situation intolerable and blamed it on a funding impasse between the Victorian Health department and the Alfred hospital, the state health minister David Davis has denounced her for politicizing the issue.
The federal minister claimed said that in February the Victorian government had agreed to meet the increasing cost of organ transplant surgery in line with growing organ donation, which partly stemmed from the Commonwealth's $151 million public campaign to lift the donation rate.
''The Victorian Health Minister appears to be reneging on that agreement ... We think this action is absolutely unbelievable. Basically the Victorian Health Minister has put a 'closed' sign on Victoria for transplant surgery ... It's appalling,'' Ms King said.
She also said federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon had written to her Victorian counterpart David Davis urging him to step in.
The hospital spokesman insisted that as the number of lung transplants conducted at the hospital had doubled in the past 18 months, the state government had actually increased funding in 2011-12 for lung transplants at the hospital.
He promised that lung transplants for children would not be affected while a limited number of adult lung transplants would continue and hoped the service would return to normal on October 10, as soon as the hospital had recruited more staff, he said.
The state health minister's office argued that the Alfred's problem was not funding, but rather a workforce capacity issue, which was a matter for all levels of government.
'"Managing this highly skilled workforce to meet the growing demand is a challenge, and will be an issue for all health ministers to discuss including the Federal Health Minister,'' it was stated.
The minister himself denied receiving any letter from Ms Roxon and said her office had confirmed she had not written to him on the matter.
Anyway there had been a funding increase of $2.7 million for organ transplants in the 2011-12 budget, he said.
"Ms King should immediately apologise to The Alfred team, the Victorian government and also to those awaiting treatment for her political game-playing," Mr Davis said.
"Alfred Health has advised that short-term changes to the lung transplant program are not related to state government funding but rather to workforce capacity issues at Alfred Health.
"Alfred Health has confirmed to the government that they are working on bringing more staff on board to meet rising demand.
" ... some adult lung transplants may still go ahead depending on individual circumstances."
Cystic Fibrosis Victoria chief executive Stephen Murby said he was furious about the impasse and said governments and hospitals needed to urgently ensure they could perform transplants as organs became available.
Mr Murby said he did not know of anyone on the waiting list who was likely to die in coming weeks without a transplant, but he said anyone on the list was seriously ill and could find themselves gravely ill at any time.
He said he hoped potential donors would not be put off donating their organs because of the issue.