Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (19:04): (623) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Health, and the action I seek is for the minister to immediately rule out forced amalgamations of rural and regional health services, in my case particularly in Gippsland. I am becoming very concerned – and the concern is growing in my community – at the prospect of forced amalgamations in the wake of a health services plan that has been underway for quite some time. It has been done largely in secret ‍– there has been very little if any consultation with any communities. I note an article that was published in ACM papers, including the Bendigo Advertiser a week or so ago, that indicates that ‘no decisions have been made’ and that:

The government said any merger process would have to include community consultation “as a legislative requirement”.

I can only assume that that is going to happen after the decision has been made, a bit like many of the things that this government does. I am very concerned that these mergers will go ahead as a cost-saving exercise – I actually think they will cost money in first place anyway – but that will actually mean lesser services for smaller rural health services in particular. One that I will give as a bit of a poster boy, because it is on the front page of the Foster Mirror today, is the South Gippsland Hospital in Foster. It is what I would call the pin-up boy for the best rural health offering you could have. We have got a good local hospital that still has theatre services and still has maternity services. It has an excellent relationship with the clinic right next door. As a result of having those theatre and maternity services, the clinic is able to attract doctors. There are about a dozen full-time equivalent doctors there ‍– around about 19 I think at the moment is the total number of GPs, which is extraordinary for a small rural area. It has a very good relationship with Prom Country Aged Care, the nearby aged care facility. It works well, just as it does with different degrees of success at the Yarram and District Health Service, Central Gippsland Health in Sale and Maffra, and at Gippsland Southern Health Service in Leongatha and Korumburra.

The story in the Bendigo Advertiser – and it has been reported elsewhere as well – indicates that Gippsland would be amalgamated into one single health service. That will absolutely lead to a loss of local control, and no question it will lead to a loss of local services. To put those four hospitals that I have mentioned in with Latrobe Regional, Bass Coast, West Gippsland health, Bairnsdale, Orbost, Omeo and potentially even Koo Wee Rup I think would be a disaster. It would be a disaster for health services particularly in the more isolated rural parts of our state and in Gippsland. I ask the minister to rule out these forced amalgamations as quickly as possible.

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