by S Lowe 5 THE FM newsonline WattleRangeNow
Member for MacKillop Mitch Williams MP tabled the Petition to save hospital services at the Millicent and Penola Hospitals on Wednesday 25th September and told 5 THE FM he was also able to address the House on behalf of the communities he represents.
Mr Williams said, ” I tabled the petition urging the Government to reinstate the Millicent Obstetric Services and to guarantee the retention of services at the Millicent and Penola Hospitals in the House on 25 September. I took the opportunity during the grievance debate to speak to the petition, unfortunately I had to conclude my remarks at the expiration of five minutes but I was pleased to be able to make the point that a viable suite of services in the Millicent Hospital is important to retaining the services of GPs and other health professionals. ‘
The petition signed by 3,913 residents of Millicent, Penola and the Wattle Range district requested the House to urge the government to reinstate obstetric services at the Millicent Hospital and to guarantee health services will not be further reduced at both the Millicent and Penola hospitals.
The following is the transcript of Mr Williams address to Parliament in full:-
‘Today a petition was tabled in the house from 3,913 of my constituents who are petitioning the house over the delivery of health services, particularly in the towns of Millicent and Penola in my electorate. We are all aware of what has happened in the community at Keith in the northern part of my electorate over the last three years. It took three years for the government to understand that it had got the Keith situation terribly wrong. It took three years for the government to understand that they were being delivered a very cost-effective service by the community of Keith through their privately-run community hospital, and it took three years for the government to come to its senses and restore some level of funding to make sure that the doors of that unit stayed open.
We all know how difficult it is maintaining health services in country towns, and one of the things that aids and assists us to maintain health services in country towns is having well‑resourced and well-functioning local hospitals, because this attracts trained professional staff, particularly doctors and highly-trained nursing staff, into those country communities and gives an incentive for those highly-trained specialists to stay and work in those country communities.
We have a situation in Millicent where we have had birthing in the Millicent hospital for probably well over 100 years and we find now that that service has been put under threat by Country Health SA. I just want to detail to the house a couple of things that have been happening in my local community, my home town Millicent, which I think is threatening the delivery of health services to that very important town in rural South Australia.
That is why almost 4,000 of my constituents in the town of Millicent, which only has a population of around 5,000 people, have signed this petition to the house. We know that over a period of some two years, Country Health SA has been negotiating with the doctors at the Millicent Medical Clinic over an ongoing contract to supply services, particularly through the hospital, and these sort of contract negotiations have been going on in other parts of the state as well.
We find in June this year, when things were coming to a head and pressure was being applied to the doctors, there was talk around the district that the birthing unit at the Millicent hospital was going to be downgraded and birthing mothers would be told to attend the Mt Gambier hospital. This was denied by Country Health SA time and time again during June, and even when Country Health SA reps were talking to the local council. At one of the council meetings of the Wattle Range Council in Millicent, they assured the council that there was no move to downgrade the birthing unit services in the Millicent hospital.
A few weeks after that it became evident, through a leaked letter, that Country Health SA had put in writing, in a letter some weeks before making these statements, that there was a plan to shift birthing from the Millicent hospital to Mount Gambier. The community were clearly misled about the intent of what was going to happen in that community. No wonder people came out in droves to sign this petition and petition this parliament.
One of the excuses Country Health gave for this move was that mothers were choosing to go to Mount Gambier rather than have their babies in Millicent. Birthing numbers have fallen from about 110 per year to just 35 in the last 12 months, but the reality is that Country Health SA has directed that first-time mothers cannot birth at Millicent because of some perceived high risk. According to the then acting head of Country Health SA, this was apparently because of a directive from Health SA.
The reality is that the Australian College of Midwives has a completely different attitude towards first-time mothers and does not assess them as having any higher risk than any other mother who does not show any other risk symptoms in the normal assessments as they are going through the gestation of their baby. We have had a deliberate move by Country Health SA to shift birthing from Millicent to Mount Gambier and now, lo and behold, we have this claim that, ‘Because the number of births in Millicent have dropped so dramatically, why should we continue the service?’ No wonder we are having difficulty attracting well-trained doctors who want to work in that community to carry out the services that the community is demanding.’