Social Development Committee - Inquiry into Regional Health Services

Authorised by ...

Published Wednesday, September 27, 2017 | Share:

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (11:41): I rise to make comment on the 40th report of the Social Development Committee inquiry into regional health services. I was listening intently to the member for Torrens' contribution. She indicated that only two-thirds of the HACs actually responded and, in fact, many were confused about their role or purpose. That is not surprising considering that John Hill introduced the HACs as a way of fooling the public whilst taking away the health boards and centralising the services back to Adelaide, depowering communities and taking local decision-making away from locals.

In terms of our local HAC and our local hospital in Mount Gambier, there seems to be a revolving door of issues that keep presenting themselves. The latest is a joint review, which identified that the Mount Gambier hospital is short 10 nurses per week, so there is actually a shortfall of 10 nurses per week. This is being covered up. I will use the words of Elizabeth Dabars, who says that Country Health's lack of response is 'gobsmacking'. She claimed that authorities were trying to conceal the problem from the public. She states:

Overworking our nurses is not a sustainable solution—it's a practice that is not only taking its toll on the health of nursing staff, it presents a ticking time bomb when it comes to patient safety.

Country Health SA is hiding this problem from the public—and that is not fair for patients.

Back in 2015, the then health minister, Mr Snelling, indicated that our renal upgrade was the most pressing issue to face our hospital. It has not got any better because we have seen absolutely no action at all. Currently, 14 patients require dialysis treatment three times a week. It is done in a substandard and cramped room where the infection control, believe it or not, is a yellow line on the ground, and there is a nurse's desk in a corner, no bigger than a standard housing bedroom.

Additionally, there are five more patients on the waiting list to receive treatment, along with 11 patients who are currently in an advanced state of renal failure who may require dialysis at any time. The Mount Gambier hospital unit is the only renal dialysis south of Murray Bridge and is servicing a population of approximately 84,000 people. Recent upgrades to the renal dialysis units at Noarlunga, Gawler and Maitland hospitals have been funded by the state government, and I welcome those upgrades; however, it is time that the Mount Gambier hospital received its upgrade.

I guess what concerns me the most about the actions of Country Health SA is the number of nurses who come to see me to report issues. Every single one of them says the same thing: 'If I am found to be talking to you I've been told I'm going to get the sack.' You wonder what type of state we live in when a public servant such as a nurse is actually frightened for their job security if they reveal issues as they occur. This culminated back in 2016. Mind you, the chair of the HAC went on radio and said that I was scaremongering and that calling for a report into our emergency department had no basis whatsoever.

Country Health SA, and credit to them, actually instigated a departmental review—it was not an independent review—that found a number of issues needed urgent attention, and they came up with 22 recommendations. The first was a shortfall of funds to the tune of half a million dollars a year, $536,000 per year. I give credit to the health minister, who secured that funding which is now flowing into the Mount Gambier hospital's emergency department—this is not the hospital, this is just the emergency department.

In late 2016, there were a number of other recommendations, and I will go through just a couple of them. Unfortunately, many of these still have not been enacted and we are into 2017, coming to 2018 very shortly. The key recommendations were:

proceed to recruit a new ED director as soon as possible;

review and restructure the recruitment process for junior RMOs;

an electronic patient tracking system should be introduced;

the implementation of a staffing escalation process for the ED during times of increased activity;

a formal patient flow initiative be implemented at the Mount Gambier and Districts Health Service; and

the category of admission within the ED to be thoroughly reviewed and justified.

They are just the key recommendations out of 22 from this departmental report. Had the HACs been working as I believe they were designed to work—in fact, as I said at the start, they were probably designed to fool people that they still had a say when everything was actually centralised back—these issues would have been raised and promoted by the HACs.

Going on to the renal dialysis upgrade, which I have spoken about in this place many, many times, it is so urgent that the community is now holding major fundraisers. That culminates, in a couple of weeks' time, in a Bollywood-themed ball and dinner out at The Barn Steakhouse, where organisers are aiming to raise about $100,000 to go towards the $1 million upgrades needed. I commend all the organisers, particularly Maureen Klintberg, who has been a tireless worker within our hospital as well as in the fundraising section of that. Going through, with her, some of the complications and difficulties she has had in having this was quite staggering.

The last part I want to talk about is Transforming Health. It has obviously now been canned; there are now upgrades to metropolitan hospitals which we were told we were not going to need because we had this new shiny hospital, the third most expensive building in the world. Now, out of political opportunism reasons—in fact, that is what the Premier has actually stated, that this is a political decision—those upgrades are occurring in metropolitan hospitals.

I do not necessarily have an issue with that because I think we should have a world-class health facility, but what I do have an issue with is that country hospitals continue to be neglected with a $150 million maintenance backlog that needs to be addressed as soon as we can. Come March next year, I am really hoping we have a government that looks after country South Australia as much as this current one has looked after metropolitan South Australia.