Commitment to reinstate obstetric services at Millicent Hospital

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.

Shadow Health Minister Rob Lucas addressed last night’s health services protest meeting at the Millicent War Memorial Civic and Arts Centre. Picture: J.L. SMITH

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

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3 Responses to Commitment to reinstate obstetric services at Millicent Hospital

  1. Well done to the community for getting a commitment to obstetric services in the future.

    Interesting that the reason for closure of obstetrics has morphed from ‘not enough deliveries’ (Peter Chapman, CHSA medical rep) to ‘not enough doctors’ (Helen Chalmers, CHSA admin) – this shifts the focus from being CHSA’s decision to close to being a problem of the local docs.

    It is only in recent weeks that other places (Victor Harbor) have moved to having a 24/7 obs/anaes roster – for many years this was not formalised and reputedly involved frantic ‘ring around’ to find available staff or transfer of pts to Adelaide. On KI many years ago there was only Mon-Fri obstetrics cover as only one doctor was doing obstetrics and he needed weekends off to recover. Better than nothing…

    Anyhow.

    If (and hopefully WHEN) obstetrics is re-instated at Millicent, there will inevitably be a cost to provide this service (paying Drs the std on call roster to be available)

    Local docs currently enjoy 2 weeks locum relief per month, provided by CHSA for the busy A&E roster. Seems fair – the roster is busy, there is only a limited no of doctors and the responsibility for staffing A&E is that of the Govt.

    One wonders if this locum relief will be withdrawn in order to pay for a re-instated obstetrics roster. CHSA have made it clear elsewhere that there are only limited funds…and they may need to recoup costs by ditching A&E locum relief, putting even MORE pressure on your overworked doctors.

    There is a tension between the needs of the hospital (staffing A&E with doctors, covering obs/anaes 24/7) and both the cost of theses rosters AND the availability of local doctors – who are also trying to run a private business in their GP clinic. They can’t be in two places at once…nor up all night working and functioning safely the next day. You wouldn’t want a pilot to work those hours…

    Perhaps a blended model of sessional payments to cover A&E is more realistic as suggested by Mayor Ganolfi. Or paying local docs for the true cost of the service they provide.

    Ultimately rural healthcare costs. CHSA has a responsibility to save funds. There are trying to utilise a ‘one size fits all’ deal for on call rosters across the State – which doesn’t take into account local community needs. Millicent A&E is busy. The community also needs obstetric services – and hence anaesthetic services for occasional epidural or C-section.

    Some communities have been able to negotiate ‘local deals’ for their docs in response to special requirements (larger centres, tourist influx) – reportedly Naracoorte, Mt Gambier, Riverland, Whyalla – who knows? Victor Harbor achieved this as recently as last month after a threat of withdrawing service completely.

    Usually the lever to achieve this has been political – via community pressure. So I think Millicent has done really well and hope can achieve a negotiated solution for ongoing viability of the local doctors and needs of community, without working the local docs to death…

    Having on going locum relief funded by CHSA will be important to them, I imagine.

  2. James says:

    FedUpRuralDoctor correctly highlights the astonishing excuse-turn-around from too few deliveries to not enough doctors. Or is it a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing? A shambles.

    Indeed, Dr Peter Chapman’s (Head of SA Country Health) unimpressive (non) performance and reluctance to speak at Wednesday’s meeting left many in groaning disbelief and wondering about the quality of advice he provides to the Minister.

    Ms Chalmers seemed very keen to spend considerable time thanking the nursing staff for their work; I’m almost certain the nurses would prefer the continued thanks from the local community rather than from a grandiose and distant centralised planning stranger/beaurocrat/public servant akin to something out of the Moscow Central Committee ca 1952.
    The unctuous patronising and time wasting was palpable.

    Ms Chalmers suggested that mothers-to-be from the Robe/Cape Jaffa region had the option of going to Naracoorte Hospital. When it was pointed out later on that this is not a full seven day service, there was no retraction about this “advice”. Did she know the situation before proclaiming it from the stage, and if so, why did she not clarify it?

  3. wieslaw domanski says:

    All this talk about payments yet Bill Murray stated that Penola hospitals admin had blown out to 14 under CHSA previously it was 1! Admin now outnumber nurses/drs 4 to 1. Is this CHSA a scheme of jobs for the boys and girls at the cost of our health services? Why no one pounced on this at the meeting is a mystery to me, but it sure explains where the money trough is and they all have their snouts in it. I for one would not trust them at all.

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