BUDGET cuts will close 45 to 50 beds at Eastern Health, which includes the Box Hill and Maroondah hospitals, however it is unclear how many jobs could go as a result.
Eastern Health chief executive Alan Lilly on Wednesday told staff that a range of acute, sub-acute and mental health beds would be closed until June to allow the health service to save $8.5 million, as required under federal budget cuts savaging the state's overwhelmed health system.
Eastern Health operates 1300 hospital beds in Melbourne's east and includes Angliss Hospital and the Healesville and District Hospital.
On Wednesday night, Mr Lilly said the number of bed closures was in line with the usual reduction over Christmas. Elective surgery would also be cut but he did not say how many operating theatres would close.
''Eastern Health will endeavour to redeploy any staff affected by these outcomes elsewhere throughout our health service where their skills and expertise can be utilised. It is possible there may be some limited redundancies,'' he said.
The new cuts follow the closure of a 32-bed surgical ward at Box Hill Hospital just over a year ago due to a lack of funding for its services at the time.
It comes as hospital chiefs meet Victorian Health Minister David Davis on Thursday to discuss how they are managing a sudden cut of $107 million this financial year. The reduction is the result of a federal government adjustment to Victoria's health funding based on changing population data, which the Victorian government has rejected.
However, it also coincides with the state government slashing $616 million from its last two health budgets.
Chair of Southern Health's board and spokeswoman for the board chairs of all Victorian health services, Barbara Yeoh, said she was still hoping the Commonwealth would overturn its cuts.
''The proper thing would be for the Commonwealth to sit down with the state Health Minister and resolve the population estimates dispute,'' she said.
Ms Yeoh has estimated the funding debacle could close a total of about 440 beds - the equivalent of a major tertiary hospital. About 200 jobs are expected to be lost and surgeons say waiting times for elective surgery are likely to double over the next six months. Melbourne Health, Southern Health, Western Health and St Vincent's Health have already told staff of about 165 bed closures between them. Revelations of Eastern Health's plans bring it to a total of 215 bed closures.
Emergency physicians are also concerned about the impact on emergency departments.
Victorian Emergency Physicians Association president Dr Allan Whitehead said bed closures would mean longer waits for emergency care because doctors cannot move patients through the system if there are not enough beds.
''Attendances to emergency departments have increased up to 20 per cent in some departments in the last two years,'' he said. ''If beds on wards are closing, it will mean longer waits in emergency departments as patients wait for admission. The whole system clogs up. Patients are suffering when they shouldn't.
''If we were able to get those patients who need to stay in hospital overnight up to the hospital wards promptly, then new patients arriving by ambulance would go straight to a bed in the emergency department and be seen faster.''