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Shadow Health Minister convinced by public outpouring of concern

rob lucas

Shadow Health Minister Rob Lucas

by S Lowe 5THE FM newsonline wattlerangenow

Hon Rob Lucas MLC outlined his plan for mothers to birth in Millicent again, plans to break up Country Health SA (CHSA) into regions, and his on-going commitment to this issue when he spoke with 5THE FM’s Rebekah Lowe.

The closure of obstetric services at the Millicent Hospital continues to be a major concern for the communities of Wattle Range and surrounding districts, reaching as far as Kingston and Robe with mothers in labor having to travel to Mt Gambier Hospital to birth, now that all obstetric services have been closed between Murray Bridge and Mt Gambier, a distance of over 360k’s.

Mr Lucas confirmed that a Liberal Government will re – introduce obstetric services at the Millicent Hospital. Mr Lucas originally made the announcement at the ‘Save our Hospital Services Public Meeting’ held in Millicent on July 31st 2013. He recalled a cold winter night in Millicent when many hundreds (650) people turned out and the public out-pouring of concern about the closure of obstetric service, convinced him that he must make the decision to re-instate the service.

The interview transcript, aired on Wednesday 12th March 2014, follows:-

Rebekah:

It was revealed in June of last year that Country Health SA would be closing obstetric services at the Millicent Hospital claiming that the Medical Clinic Millicent could not provide a 24X7 service with their staffing levels at the time.

This announcement came after  long drawn out contractual negotiations between the Medical Clinic and CHSA who insisted on a one-size-fits-all contract being rolled out across the state. The Millicent doctors wanted consideration for the community’s needs included in that contract and negotiations stalled.

Recruiting doctors has been made more difficult for the private practice due to the loss of services  at the hospital, which includes dialysis, chemotherapy, mental health, gastroenterology, physiotherapy, obstetrics and reduced staffing levels. Without these services doctors and nurses become de-skilled. These cuts to services makes it difficult to attract staff.

CHSA Jayne Downs addressed WR Council in June and said that obstetrics would not be closed. In July it was revealed that there was documentation to the contrary and obstetric services were going to be closed and this decision had been made by CHSA,before Jayne Downs address to Council.

A Public Meeting was called and attended by CHSA ‘s Helen Chalmers and Peter Chapman representing the Health Minister Jack Snelling who was invited, but did not attend.

Shadow Minister Rob Lucas attend and committed a Liberal Government, if elected, to re-introduce obstetric services at the Millicent Hospital.

Mr Lucas also committed to meet with the Medical Clinic doctors and today we are speaking with the Shadow Minister, can you tell us Mr Lucas what came out of that meeting with the local doctors?

Hon Rob Lucas MLC

 “A number of things came out of that meeting, and if we are elected we will re-introduce obstetrics  at the Millicent Hospital,” he said.

“We have had some frank discussions with the doctors at Millicent (Medical Clinic Millicent) and if we are elected we will have further discussion with them after having met with Country Health (CHSA). We will also need to have discussions with other stakeholders in terms of what model we are able to provide to re-introduce obstetric services in Millicent.”

When  asked whether he envisaged a new service, or the re-instating of the original service he replied, “ I think the goal is,  the goal for all of us ……and I also think the people of Millicent, want the service they had, re-instated…………so we will be looking at doing that.”

“When we spoke with the doctors they did put forward an alternative model, given the staff available at the time and I understand since those talks they have continued to try to attract staff, and the way I see it is that to have this service operating, they need certainty to help them attract staff and I think the first thing they need is a Minister who is committed to trying to find a solution to this problem, instead of a Minister looking for excuses to justify the cut that has been made.”

“So they will need some certainty to help them attract staff and then they will have to see if they can attract and retain an anaesthetist and the GP obstetricians that are going to be required in Millicent, to continue with the service’

“They have some firm views in terms of the sort of back up that they are going to need in certain circumstances………….and if I am elected, if I become Minister,  I will need to have those discussions with CHSA and the practitioners at the Mt Gambier Hospital, to see how we can arrive at this solution…………….. to continue with some obstetrics at the Millicent Hospital.”

Rebekah:

Mr Lucas it seems that regional people are not being heard, we can object but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. If there is no change of government, will you continue to campaign for us for this and other issues?

Hon Rob Lucas MLC

“Well I certainly will, and I know your local member Mitch Williams will continue to campaign for the local community as well, but certainly I am going to take an on-going interest. “

“I am a Mt Gambier boy originally, and I know the south east well,  I know the Millicent community well,  I know the importance if this particular issue for the Millicent Community, and certainly with local member Mitch Williams, we as Opposition, will take up the battle, but I think it will be quite difficult, the Labour Govt has made it quite clear what their attitude is; if ever they were going to change their mind it would be in the period leading up to an election. They haven’t done so…….so I don’t hold much hope that a Labour Govt will change their mind, not much hope of Premier Weatherill or Mr Snelling changing their view on this particular issue.

Rebekah:

The cuts weren’t about funding, even though CHSA agreed to re-enter negotiations with the local doctors,  the services continue to be cut, in fact they are continually being watered down. We are still getting reports from young mothers/parents who are being put in very unsafe situations, travelling to Mt Gambier from Robe and Beachport, in labour.  So the situation is not just about Millicent but about the surrounding areas and it is very worrying to this community that something terrible could happen. It isn’t just about services is it, but about safety too?

Hon Rob Lucas MLC:

“I have seen the media reports and I do hope that will not happen and I’m sure you and your community have the same hope that circumstances don’t eventuate that many people are worried about.  All I can say again is that if we are elected we will be looking for a solution to the problems down there and we will make sure that CHSA are given firm writing instructions that…….perhaps I can say it as gently as that………. firm writing instructions……… that any new government wants them to draw the line on previous government policy, and the new government  has been elected and it wants a solution……… and come back to me, if I happen to be the Minister, with options to arrive at the solution to this particular issue.”

Rebekah Lowe:

We have not really been given a good reason for the cancellation of this service, other than CHSA’s Peter Chapman who said that birth numbers were down at the Millicent Hospital because women chose to birth at Mt Gambier; this was however disputed and it was discovered that women were being told to go to Mt Gambier by CHSA staff at the Millicent Hospital and this was the reason for the reduction in birth numbers.

It is good to know that you are taking an interest in this particular issue but will you (Liberal Party)  look at reinstating other services that have been cut from the Millicent Hospital.

Hon Rob Lucas MLC:

“No, the only commitment we have given thus far is in relation is  obstetrics service………..I acknowledge………….. I understood when I  came to the Public Meeting that there has been a long history of other services being removed.  The only commitment we have given thus far is to re-instate obstetrics services.”

“What we are facing is………… the current government has locked in $1,033 million in budget cuts in health over the next three years, and we don’t know where they are because the government won’t tell us…………. because they want to keep that secret until after the election………. so whoever is in after the election is going to have a very difficult budget situation………. so we are not going to over promise from Opposition. We will need to have to have a look, if we are elected, at what the budget circumstances are and make decisions accordingly. If it is possible then, we would look at that, but I don’t want to raise expectation in the Millicent community over the specific commitment we have given, which relates to obstetric services.”

Rebekah Lowe:

Why is its important to you to save obstetric services in this region?

Hon Rob Lucas MLC:

“Well the first reason is that there was such a public outpouring of concern about this particular issue,  I remember the cold wintry evening in Millicent when many hundreds of constituents turned out to voice their concern to people like me…………and the Minister (Jack Snelling) who did not turn up……….. and many others, and that is a fair indication of the concern.”

*“ I wasn’t the Shadow Minister when the other services were cut and I don’t know if there was such a show of concern through public meetings but I think with obstetrics…..we’ve seen a similar thing with the closure of paediatric services at the Modbury Hospital, I think when you are talking about children and babies,there is a significant concern from mums, dads, and families about the loss of these services from their health services and that is why we have seen such significant opposition to this issue in Millicent.”

 “I am not familiar with the 10 year plan but we (Liberal) announced yesterday another element as part of our health policy, we intend to break up CHSA.  We think one authority which is meant to cover all country health service from Ceduna to Port MacDonnell makes no sense.”

“People located centrally can’t have any feel for what’s going on in local regions.”

 “We’ll be looking to break Country Health up into at least 3 regions, and hopefully the people running their particular region will be more in touch with the needs of the local communities and more aware of things like the  10 year plan and perhaps more responsive to things like that, but I cannot comment on the 10 year plan.”

Rebekah:

Thank you so much, it has been a real pleasure to speak to you Mr Lucas.

The Health Minister Jack Snelling, was invited onto the program, our request was acknowledges but at the time of going to air an interview time had not been established with the Minister.

CHSA issued us with a statement last week saying that women can birth in the Mt Gambier and Naracoorte Hospital.

Editors comment:

*Millicent Hospital Services lost include: – chemotherapy, reduced staff, mental health, obstetric, physiotherapy, dialysis, gastroenterology.

**Mr Glen Brown, former CEO of Millicent Hospital and current HAC member (Health Advisory Committee)  said at the Public Meeting,  the 10 year plan developed in 2009 for 2010-19 for the Millicent Hospital included:-

  • Emergency  –  to be maintained and enhanced
  • In-patient – to be maintained
  • Obstetrics  –  to be maintained
  • Medical  –  the same to be maintained

When the Hospital Board was removed, the Health Advisory Committee (HAC) was established to advise the Minister for Health, on the health needs of the community.

It would seem that the needs of the community and the advice of the advisory body has been disregarded and the removal of services has continued.

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