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17 February 2021
By DEAN LAWSON
Long-time Horsham surgeon Ian Campbell, OAM, has come out strongly against the idea of a proposed merger between Wimmera and Ballarat health services.
Mr Campbell, Wimmera Health Care Group’s Director of Surgery and a former board member and chair, said a merger would fall well short of resolving issues.
He said it would instead represent a backward step.
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“It will lead to loss of local control of services. It will inevitably lead to loss of jobs, particularly in the administration areas to start with, but with ongoing economic rationalisation, other areas might be threatened as well,” he said.
“It will definitely not expand the services that can be provided locally, as by Victorian standards most of these are actually fairly well met.”
Mr Campbell said the Wimmera hospital and services should instead attract greater attention from state and federal governments.
“A succession of state governments has largely paid lip service to supporting rural hospitals,” he said.
“Horsham hospital’s acute block was one of the cheapest hospitals ever built in Australia at the time and we are now suffering because of this.
“It is further complicated by the case-mix-funding formula for which larger base hospitals, including Horsham, rely on for much of their funding. Smaller hospitals are funded in a different fashion called block funding and it is much easier for them to balance their budgets.
“The reality is that no hospital in Victoria has sustainably balanced its budget on the case-mix-funding formula provided by successive state governments.
“Considerable capital works are required in Horsham just to keep the hospital functioning.
“The current accident and emergency department is physically too small for the patient numbers that go through and to maintain any pretence of patient privacy let alone social distancing to meet COVID or future infection-control requirements.
“The current operating theatres have major deficiencies with air-conditioning, particularly in hot weather, and require a substantial amount of work to improve these up to expected standards. Wimmera Health Care Group nursing homes in Horsham are also in need of major capital works or replacement.
“Importantly, amalgamation will do nothing to improve any of this. The issues instead require ongoing State Government commitment.”
Mr Campbell said he believed the health-group board had been ‘somewhat defeatist in its attitude to these problems’.
“I don’t believe it is appropriate to ‘chuck the towel in’ and run off to seek help elsewhere,” he said.
“Horsham is big enough to have its own viable health service given appropriate support from both the state and federal governments.
“Despite what has been published by the chief executive and chairperson of Wimmera Health Care Group, I cannot see any long-term advantages in a merger.”
Wimmera Health Care Group is exploring ways to enhance a partnership with Ballarat Health Services, including a merger, in response to staff-recruiting issues and the number of Wimmera people travelling to Ballarat for public health services.
It has been running community consultation sessions in January and February and calling for public submissions on proposals since November last year.
Mr Campbell said he had ‘made no secret’ to the health-group board and chief executive Catherine Morley that a move to merge with Ballarat would be wrong.
“Horsham District Hospital, then Wimmera Base Hospital, then Wimmera Health Care Group, has a long and proud history of serving the people of Horsham and surrounding areas,” he said.
“There has always been the intention to provide world-class treatment locally for as many people and as many conditions as possible.”
Mr Campbell said issues ranging from ‘continuity of care and looking after your own patients’ to maintaining high levels of clinical governance were major issues.
“The quality of Wimmera health-care services, based on peer-reviewed publications and acknowledgements, is long and profound. The organisation has been an Australian leader in clinical governance,” he said.
Mr Campbell added that he believed Ballarat Health Services Board was ‘expansionist in its views of the world’.
“A takeover of Wimmera Health Care Group would lead to a much bigger budget, which would be controlled through Ballarat,” he said.
“Ballarat is a rapidly growing area and will need substantial capital works and a substantial commitment to ongoing medical and nursing staff just to keep the doors open, without doing anything else for any area west of Ballarat. The smaller health services are going to be very small in terms of percentage of the regional health budget and will find it increasingly difficult to provide appropriate services to their patients.
“The reality is that if a merger goes ahead we will inevitably lose jobs, positions, money and influence to Ballarat.
“I have been a surgeon in Horsham for 34 years. I will be retiring in June and would like to see Wimmera Base Hospital continue to provide a broad spectrum of world-standard medicine and surgery to meet the needs of Horsham and the broader Wimmera.
“I hope our politicians will give this matter further consideration.”
EDITORIAL: Hospital merger response momentum grows
LETTER: Stand united.
LETTER: Under our control
LETTER: Loss of autonomy
The entire February 17, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!