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07 April 2021
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy has backed community calls for Health Minister Martin Foley to visit Horsham to hear concerns about a merger proposal involving Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Services.
Ms Kealy said the minister had snubbed an invitation from the Horsham community to hear first-hand significant concerns about the proposal.
She said she had asked Mr Foley during an adjournment debate in State Parliament in February to attend a public community meeting and to ‘immediately’ intervene.
“Parliamentary protocols state the minister must respond to any adjournment matter within 28 days, a deadline the minister has failed to meet,” she said.
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Ms Kealy said it was critical the minister visited Horsham to listen to residents and gain an understanding about an ‘overwhelming’ consensus across the Wimmera that people did not want their hospital to merge with Ballarat. “My office has been inundated with emails and phone calls from local residents about this issue, with 100 percent of these against the proposed amalgamation,” she said.
“It appears the government has a firm policy to amalgamate health services and I am aware they are having extensive discussions 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 is in the process of engaging a visiting psychiatrist and general surgeon, and Rural Doctors – Nhill Medical Centre has 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 works 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 – a merger 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 providing 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 Wimmera Health Care Group the infrastructure they require to do a great job.
“This in turn will support growth in our region through decentralisation, not centralisation.”
Ms Kealy said she believed it was well-known that Ballarat Health Services had extended emergency department wait times, had difficulty in attracting staff including specialists – which affected services to patients – and recurrent budget blowouts.
She stressed that merging with Ballarat 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.”
Ms Kealy said 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,” she said.
“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.”
The entire April 7, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!