Who'd put their hand up to be health minister?
It didn't come as a huge surprise when NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner announced on Friday that she had decided now was the time to get out, with new Premier Gladys Berejiklian likely to reshuffle her cabinet and much of the gossip on Macquarie St centred on bringing fresh faces onto the front bench following the retirement of Mike Baird.
It wasn't a surprise but it was a shame, as Mrs Skinner has been a pretty good health minister all things considered. Her deep knowledge of the portfolio is legendary – she did spend 14 years as opposition health spokesperson before ascending to the leather throne in 2011 – and she is widely admired for her passion for healthcare and the healthcare system, both public and private.
Her last year hasn't been the best, with the blame for a number of quite appalling mishaps that were beyond her control laid at her feet. This is the lot of the state health minister, however, and she knew it getting into it. Just like another recently retired Liberal health minister in WA's Kim Hames, you are only remembered for your last disaster, not your years of capable management.
One clever thing Mrs Skinner did was to devolve power and decision making to the LHDs – a cynic would say this was a good dodge for when things inevitably went wrong – but one not so smart thing was championing the construction of the Northern Beaches Hospital over a much more electorally important upgrade to Nepean Hospital and its emergency department.
Overall, however, NSW's hospital infrastructure spend has been impressive during her tenure, although a lot is still creaky, and equally impressive was the money she managed to secure in the Coalition's first budget in 2011 for eHealth, which was about $400 million. Granted, she has repeatedly re-announced that money over the years but it has been put to pretty good use, including the $170m medications management program, the new intensive care system and the development of what is now a good and getting better state-wide telehealth system.
The state's eHealth strategy and its emphasis on rural and regional NSW is going gangbusters, and that Mrs Skinner was able to keep horror stories about the electronic medical record off the front pages most of the time is a testament to her skill.
She could be gruff and irascible – she once savaged a Pulse+IT reporter for asking an impertinent question, and we still bear the scorch marks – and she was as partisan as all get-up, but the incredibly warm welcome she received when addressing the NSW Health Expo last year was proof that NSW Health staff had a lot of time for her, no matter their political bent. In this most difficult of portfolios, you can't really ask for much more than that.
In our poll last week, we asked if you thought Telstra Health had a coherent strategy. It was a close run thing but the naysayers came out on top, 56 per cent to 44.