Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

Werribee Mercy Hospital

As previously raised by me in this place, our community of Lalor is well served by our Werribee Mercy Hospital. This hospital has a proud history of servicing the community and has worked hard to develop master plans for the future provision of services. Labor is proud to have worked with the hospital in recent years to secure much-needed funding, particularly capital funding. Labor did so knowing these facilities were part of a well-thought-out master plan, designed to ensure that over time the hospital continues its excellent service to the area.

But I am sad to report that some of the recently opened new services funded under Labor are now under threat of being compromised. In 2011, Labor allocated around $30 million for the new subacute and rehab centre, the Catherine McAuley Centre, which opened in February this year—a centre that was obviously needed, as every bed has been occupied, every day, since the first week of operation. This centre has proven a great boon for the hospital. When I met with the hospital executive recently, they explained that this facility has improved patient outcomes, with less patients requiring readmittance after discharge; it has delivered better rehabilitation outcomes; and it has also enabled acute beds to be utilised more effectively. This is good news as the outcome is increased health provision for our community. It is good news because patients are requiring less readmission after discharge, an aim of the centre.

Hospital facilities need to be built; that is the first step. Then of course they need to be staffed. Labor put in place a national agreement to provide operational funding in the interim until the new National Health Agreements were due to commence. These arrangements have been ignored by this government. This year's budget has put those health agreements at risk and the government's own budget papers show health funding has been cut. The budget paper also shows $200 million in savings has been found by ceasing the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Hospital Services on 1 July 2015. This agreement was designed to improve access to public hospital services, including elective surgery, emergency department services and subacute care. It was due to run until June 2017. Based on charts in the budget and evidence to the Senate from the Health Department, it appears that over 10 years the Commonwealth would be contributing $50 billion less to hospitals than if it kept Labor's funding arrangements in place. This $50 billion less across 10 years means $5 billion a year as an average.

This has put a cloud over health provision in our area, and indeed across Australia. The Werribee Mercy was built 20 years ago to service a population of a projected 90,000 residents. We now have a population of 200,000 residents. As a community we are very much still in an expansion mode. Remember that Wyndham is the fastest growing area in Victoria, if not Australia. This government was basically silent on health initiatives in the lead-up to last year's election—no new ideas, no detailed planning for the future. In the budget delivered just six months after winning office, all we have seen from this government is cuts to health funding. For the Mercy group, cuts in the order of $30 million over the forward estimates are expected. So the hospital is now facing the need to make decisions. How will they cut the cloth to fit with less money? The only way I can see to do so is to cut services. What is the logical service that could be targeted: the new subacute and rehabilitation centre.

Labor has a proud history of providing for expansion in Lalor, having also funded a new GP Superclinic, a Headspace centre and an $11 million clinical teaching and research facility. This clinical teaching and research facility is allowing for medical staff to be trained in the west of Melbourne for the first time. It is a great initiative not just for the research capacity it brings but once doctors and nurses have worked in our region they are more likely to stay, assisting with the long-term medical staff shortage pressure we have experienced over time.

As a Labor member I am rightly proud that we funded much-needed health services for my local area. In a region with 92 per cent bulk-billing rates, the community relies on a well-resourced public system. The sad thing is Labor proudly invests and then the coalition government proudly cuts. We have heard the Prime Minister and the health minister stand by their budget, despite key stakeholders like the AMA denouncing it. We have heard them time and time again say their cruel budget is necessary, when this rationale is predicated on a false budget emergency.

Not only does this budget cut hospital operational funds; the savings this government appears determined to achieve hit at every level of the system. The government is introducing cuts to preventative health programs, imposing barriers to accessing primary care through additional out-of-pocket expenses, increasing the costs of medicines, freezing rebates for specialist services, cutting public dental services and, of course, cutting billions of dollars from the hospital system. These are not sensible savings. They are not savings that are reinvested back into strengthening Medicare or providing better access to services.

I will say again: the Werribee Mercy Hospital serves our community well, but in a growing community the current arrangements are inadequate. We need government to invest in health provision for the hardworking community members of Lalor. The Mercy has identified an immediate need for six additional operating rooms, 56 new acute care beds, eight critical care beds, 29 mental health beds, 10 maternity beds and 10 neonatal cots. The provision of these would allow for a great health service in our area. An area that is rapidly expanding needs these critical services. We need our hospital to build the economies of scale to deliver efficient and necessary health care.

Other areas in Victoria have recently received funding for expansion. I am not suggesting facilities there are not required. It is just that Lalor also needs its fair share. Bendigo, with a population of just over 100,000, has received $630 million for a new hospital. Ballarat, with a population just under 100,000, recently received $46.5 million to expand services in the hospital. Geelong, with a population of around 250,000, is in line for a second hospital. I congratulate these services for securing funding, but I think Wyndham, with a population of 200,000, deserves better.

Werribee Mercy's catchment is now the largest in Victoria without a major hospital located in the area. The Mercy does not have a supporting tertiary hospital that it can transfer patients to in a timely manner. With no tertiary level hospital in the Wyndham region, the average distance to the six closest hospitals with an intensive care unit is around 35 kilometres. The Mercy provides 40.6 per cent of Wyndham residents with health care. The other 59.4 per cent need to go out of the area for their hospital care. The Mercy currently serves only 48 per cent of birthing women in Wyndham, where 80 babies a week are born. At times, it needs to provide level 5 hospital care for newborns when it is only equipped to operate as level 2.

The new financial year is just over a week away. This will not be the last time I lobby for additional health resources for our community. But with only eight days to resolve the immediate issue of recurrent funding for the brand new $30 million Catherine McAuley rehabilitation centre, I call on the health minister, Peter Dutton, and the Victorian health minister, David Davis, to come together and resolve this issue. They need to ensure the Catherine McAuley rehabilitation centre can be staffed appropriately and continue to meet its intended outcomes. The demand is clear; the facility is built. What we need is a government willing to fund its continued use.


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