A commitment to reinstate obstetric services at Millicent Hospital was given to almost 600 people at a public meeting in Millicent last night.
The announcement by Shadow Health Minister Rob Lucas was met by warm applause at the health services protest meeting called by Wattle Range Council Mayor Peter Gandolfi.
Mr Lucas said the commitment to obstetrics was conditional on the Liberal Party winning the next State election in March and that sufficient qualified doctors could be found to re-instate the birthing facilities.
According to Mr Lucas, the Liberal Party had decided on this policy after strong lobbying from member for MacKillop Mitch Williams.
He said the Millicent obstetrics decision had also been backed by Opposition Leader Steve Marshall and Shadow Treasurer Iain Evans.
A further hope for the return of obstetrics to Millicent was given by Helen Chalmers who is the chief operating officer with Country Health SA.
She said Country Health SA would still be prepared to negotiate an obstetrics contract with Millicent GPs.
The public meeting at the Millicent War Memorial Civic and Arts Centre lasted for almost three hours.
Among the locals to have their say in the open forum were Phil Golding, Dr Trevor Burchall, Colin Pye, John McLoughlin, Bob Motley, Cr Sharon Cox, Sam Croser, Nan Sapiatzer, Cr Rob Thornett and Graham Tilley.
Many of these participants called on the Country Health SA personnel to justify their decision to withdraw obstetrics from Millicent Hospital.
The chief explanation was the unavailability of doctors.
There were occasional angry outbursts from the gathering and these were often prompted by statements from the Country Health SA representatives.
On the other hand, any speeches which advocated the retention or expansion of medical services at Millicent Hospital were generally met with warm applause.
There was near-unanimous support for five motions put forward by Wattle Range Council chief executive Peter Harriott.
Country Health SA has been asked to consult with local communities and Health Minister Jack Snelling has been urged to intervene and direct his department to work with Millicent GPs to re-establish obstetrics at Millicent Hospital.
In the interim, one of the meeting’s motions has called on Country Health SA to re-establish obstetrics.
Mr Snelling has also been asked to guarantee that no further service cuts will be made at Penola and Millicent and that Country Health SA should implement the 10 year service plan for these two hospitals.
In addition to the meeting’s backing of these motions, more than 3,000 persons have signed a “hard copy” protest petition which will be tabled in State Parliament.
An on-line protest petition has more than 1,000 signatures and promoter and Millicent resident Deb Kirby was present last night.
Among the other interested persons at the meeting were Liberal candidate for Barker Tony Pasin and Grant District Council Mayor Richard Sage.
Mr Harriott was the moderator for the meeting and conducted the question-and-answer session which lasted almost an hour.
This role was expected to be filled by Mr Gandolfi but a throat complaint limited his ability to speak for long periods.
The other speakers who gave formal speeches last night were Mr Gandolfi, Mr Williams, Ms Chalmers, Don Gilbertson (former chair of the Millicent Hospital Board and a current Millicent Health Advisory Council member), Glenn Brown (ex- Millicent Hospital CEO and Millicent Health Advisory Council spokesman), Bill Murray (chair of the Penola Medical Support Group), Dr Stephan Van Eeden (a partner at the Medical Clinic Millicent), Dr Francois Pretorius (former Penola doctor), Rosie Radcliff, Jill Little and Anna Wilson (representing the Australian Nurses’ and Midwifery Federation) and Dr Peter Chapman (chief medical officer, Country Health SA).
Dr Pretorius and Mr Williams spoke via pre-recorded videos lasting five minutes each.
Letters of support for the reinstatement of obstetrics at Millicent Hospital have come to Wattle Range Council from Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Robe District Council chief executive Roger Sweetman and they were read out aloud.
Further reports and photographs from last night’s meeting will be published in Tuesday’s print edition of The South Eastern Times.
J.L. “Fred” Smith