Health | April 01, 2021

Kealy: Health Minister must come to Horsham

The Minister for Health has snubbed an invitation from the Horsham community to hear first-hand their significant concerns about the proposed Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Services amalgamation.

In an adjournment debate in Parliament in February, the Nationals Member for Lowan Emma Kealy asked the minister to attend an open community meeting, following extensive feedback from residents that they wanted the minister to hear their concerns about the proposed hospital amalgamation and immediately intervene.

Parliamentary protocols state the minister must respond to any adjournment matter within 28 days, a deadline the minister has failed to meet.

Ms Kealy said it was critical the minister came to Horsham to listen to local residents and understand the overwhelming consensus across the Wimmera that people do not want their local hospital to merge with Ballarat.

“My office has been inundated with emails and phone calls from local residents about this issue, with 100 per cent of these against the proposed amalgamation,” Ms Kealy said.

“It appears the government has a firm policy to amalgamate health services and I am aware they are having extensive discussions with health services right across the state. But they must listen to local people who want to keep their health services local.

“Locals are smart enough to see that promises of more services, more doctors, more money and better infrastructure can be achieved without having to hand control of our hospital to Ballarat.

“I understand West Wimmera Health Service are in the process of engaging a visiting psychiatrist and general surgeon, and Rural Doctors - Nhill Medical Centre have engaged a new rural GP. They didn’t need to merge with Ballarat Health Services to achieve this, they just got on with the job and set up a contract for services.

“We can also look to the fantastic Wimmera Cancer Centre, which is delivered in partnership with Ballarat, to illustrate how we don’t need an amalgamation to ensure amazing things can happen. This is the model we should extend and base future partnerships around, not amalgamation.”

Ms Kealy said whether the problem was funding, infrastructure, insufficient clinical staff and specialists or recruitment, amalgamation was not the solution.

“All of these problems can only be fixed by intervention through government policy that supports rural and regional hospitals, and by injecting the funds our hospitals desperately need,” she said.

“One element of this is the need for the state government to address the funding model for public hospitals and inject the capital funding needed to give staff at the Wimmera Health Care Group the infrastructure that they require to do a great job. This in turn will support growth in our region through decentralisation, not centralisation.”

Ms Kealy said it was well-known that Ballarat Health Services had extended emergency department wait times, had difficulty in attracting staff including specialists – which impacted on services to patients – and recurrent budget blowouts.

She said merging with Ballarat simply would not help the Wimmera.

“Any amalgamation must be a last resort, not a first step, because it cannot be undone. If we lose local oversight, our local hospital as we know it will be gone forever,” she said.

“Many people, in sharing the reasons why they are so concerned about this proposal, have cited the impact on post-secondary education options when the former Wimmera Institute of TAFE became part of what is now Federation University. Local people know what so often happens when a big player whose core interests and administrative functions lie elsewhere enters our playing field: we lose.

“Wimmera Health Care group amalgamating with Ballarat Health Services would be a betrayal of Wimmera people. For more than a century, locals have fought and raised funds for better local health services, governed by local people to deliver health services for local people. They have worked tirelessly to get a public hospital with a comprehensive suite of services. To surrender that to another hospital in Ballarat would be absolutely devastating for Wimmera people.

“The minister must come to Horsham and listen to the concerns of Wimmera people and put an end to the current talks of amalgamation.”


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