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    Member for Lowan Emma Kealy.

Emma Kealy: Stop hospital merger talk


Member for Lowan Emma Kealy has called for an immediate stop to planning that might involve a merger between Wimmera and Ballarat health services.

Ms Kealy said she had studied the merger idea in depth and listened ‘carefully and with an open mind’ to various points of view but could see only a long-term negative outcome for Wimmera people if it happened.

She said the threat of the Wimmera ultimately losing ‘critical’ autonomy in health-care provision through a permanent amalgamation was too great a risk.

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“There are too many things that can go wrong. Sure having partnerships  obviously makes sense, but people would assume our health services are already working in partnerships as part of a Victorian public-health system,” she said.

“When it comes to decisions affecting the Wimmera, the responsible health-care group must be 100 percent Wimmera focused. 

“If there is a merger with Ballarat I can’t help but believe our region will end up with a small fraction of representation in the decision-making process.

“And that’s not good for anyone living in the Wimmera.”

A voluntary merger is among partnership options Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Services are exploring to enhance services across the region.

Independent consultant Cube Group is examining partnership details and a staff and community consultation process, which started on October 30, will finish on Monday.

Wimmera Health Care Group’s management board has stressed that any partnership would enhance, not diminish, services. But Ms Kealy, who as former Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital chief executive was the first signatory of collaborative Wimmera Mallee Health Alliance, said she remained unconvinced.

“This is not just about Horsham, it’s about the whole region,” she said.

“Amalgamation is a very permanent option and it feels like we have skipped a lot to get to a predetermined stage. A merger won’t solve many of the issues that have been raised.

“It doesn’t really make sense to try to improve services by taking control away from where the services are provided.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone in the wider community supportive of this – and others I’ve spoken to who are either highly informed about public-health management and closely connected to the system or directly involved in health provision, are also deeply concerned about the idea.

“We are talking about asking a group outside the Wimmera to take control of a level of responsibility for something we should stay in charge of ourselves.”

Wimmera Base Hospital.

Wimmera Health Care Group’s board is exploring a voluntary merger as a way to lessen reasons for people to travel to Ballarat for public health care.

Its aim is to ‘provide better access to clinical care locally, and to strengthen capacity and workforce’.

It has also identified during the COVID-19 pandemic the value of partnerships between the health services.

It has explained that ‘issues such as workforce shortages, financial constraint, infrastructure limitations and increasing governance expectations and obligations have been a pressing issue for the board for some years.

‘The current approach to health-care governance and service delivery is not sustainable and requires change, so WHCG approached BHS about strengthening partnerships to achieve greater health outcomes for the community’.

Ms Kealy said if Wimmera residents were experiencing higher levels of chronic illness and ill health compared with the rest of Victoria, adequate and appropriate health-service governance needed to be in Horsham.

“It’s as simple as that. We need decentralisation not centralisation,” she said.

“This is a much bigger issue than simply sending people up and down the highway and trying to fill gaps.  

“It’s about building public health services that are reliable, appropriate and holistically focused in and on our region.

“And this isn’t just a Wimmera issue. 

“Most regional public hospitals have similar problems with a funding model that needs overhauling and better government understanding of changing circumstances in the health-care environment.

“A major risk of an amalgamation is a need for less people to call the Wimmera home and that can only be detrimental for a region needing more people and starting to grow.”

Ms Kealy said she understood Wimmera Health Care Group board frustrations in needing to come up with solutions to maintain or build medical services and associated funding pressures.

“But I urge the board to explore other options,” she said.

“If it’s a funding issue the State Government should provide the money needed. 

“If it’s about securing visiting specialists then enter service-sharing agreements. But don’t throw away autonomy.

“You only really get a feel for what the community really needs if you are on the ground. 

“There’s a lot to be said for walk-down-the-street accountability and being able to stand on your own two feet.”

The entire February 10, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!