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EDITORIAL: Hard think needed on health services

It is with trepidation that we acknowledge that an exploration into improving Wimmera health services has put a potential Ballarat merger on the table.

Community health officials have listed voluntary amalgamation between Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Services as one possible outcome of a probe into meeting growing need. 

They started exploring a greater partnership earlier this year.

The examination is in response to a constant Wimmera battle to fill key clinical roles and a high number of people travelling daily from the Wimmera to Ballarat for specialist services.

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The idea, for some, appears more than a little counter-intuitive and has understandably set off some alarm bells.

There is a quiet fear that such a merger might lead to an inevitable erosion of critical regional-service autonomy and head down a similar track already well established by past contraction of other government agency bases.

The fear is that even airing the idea, especially within earshot of political finance rationalists, might ultimately lead to less, not more specialist services being available close to home.

Added to this are also concerns about how this could potentially interfere with a promotional message about Wimmera-Mallee growth opportunities, especially in attracting more professionals to the region.

At the core of this examination is a need to develop and encourage specialist services beyond a central urban ring, which these days includes Ballarat.

Wimmera Health Care Group chair Marie Aitken has stressed that any decisions on voluntary reform would be based on an expansion of clinical services and no service losses. 

She also encouraged the community to get involved in discussions and engage in a range of consultation activities and surveys during the next three months.

She said Wimmera and Ballarat health-group boards had recognised ‘substantial opportunities for enhanced clinical governance, regulatory and aged-care compliance and accreditation, financial capability and clinical-service provision through partnership opportunities’.

A quick snapshot of the Wimmera reveals a curious evolutionary mix of health-service providers. 

West Wimmera Health Service based at Nhill, for example, oversees Dunmunkle services in the region’s east. Other public health providers in the region include Stawell Regional Health, Rural Northwest Health, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital and further to the south-east in Ararat district, East Grampians Health Service.

The community consultation period is an important opportunity for people to put forward their thoughts and ideas based on a charter to improve circumstances.

There has been more than a strong hint in recent times that we get the best socio-economic outcomes for our Wimmera cities, towns and settlements with a regional approach.

Does this mean, as well as considering a Wimmera-Ballarat merger, we also consider what a greater formal consolidation of what’s in a region already might be able to provide?

We’re unsure, but what we do know is that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an opening of the doors of opportunity.

We also know that close-at-hand and reliable health services represent the last bastion of confidence for people living in or considering moving to the regions.

The entire November 18, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!