When she took over as Health Minister from Roger Cook in December, Amber-Jade Sanderson stepped into the hardest job in the McGowan Government.
The ambulance service was teetering on the brink, emergency departments overflowing and hospitals were struggling to cope, even without community spread of COVID-19. Many saw her appointment to the health portfolio, just two months before the doors to the State were thrown open to Omicron, as a poisoned chalice.
But the rookie minister is proving herself a tough and uncompromising performer.
Eight months into her tenure, Ms Sanderson is beginning to make her mark.
On Wednesday, The West Australian revealed Ms Sanderson had put an ultimatum to St John WA — make sweeping changes to the way it operates or lose the contract to operate the State’s ambulance services.
Those changes, designed to “fundamentally change the relationship” between the not-for-profit and WA Health, include allowing the department to “intervene or terminate” if St John is judged to exhibit “sustained underperformance” against a new set of key performance indicators.
St John WA will also be forced to provide greater access to its financial records to demonstrate government money is being re-invested “back into the delivery of emergency ambulance services”. It’s an ultimatum which indicates the Government is willing to take back control of ambulance services after the 2025 election if St John doesn’t improve.
It follows the resignation of Michelle Fyfe as St John chief executive in June, following a “confrontational” meeting with Ms Sanderson in which the Government’s position on her performance was made clear.
And today came another resignation — that of Perth Children’s Hospital boss Aresh Anwar, 18 months after the death of Aishwarya Aswath shocked WA and exposed the perilous state of our health services.
Prompted by Aishwarya’s death, Ms Sanderson in February instigated an overhaul of the Child and Adolescent Health Service board when she issued them with a show cause notice asking why they should not be sacked. Three directors have since left.
Of course, fixing WA’s health system will take a lot more than a clear-out at the top. But it’s a start.
The problems are still there. Ambulance ramping is still astronomical, reaching a record high of 6982 hours in July.
WA is still short hundreds of doctors and nurses. Morale remains low and staff are exhausted.
It’s Ms Sanderson’s job to sort it out.
Her role in shepherding through the voluntary assisted dying legislation before it finally became law in 2019 showed her mettle and her political skill. To survive in what is the toughest gig in Cabinet, she must be willing to hold the system and those who run it to account. So far, it appears she is. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by WAN Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie