Country Health SA

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (15:25): Today, I rise to speak about an issue in the electorate of Chaffey concerning Country Health SA. At the moment, they are looking at secretive job cuts. After being informed by the community that Country Health SA was offering targeted voluntary separation packages to local health staff, I became extremely concerned in a region that has been an ideal place for the aged and retiring. It is critical that the large elderly population has good health services.

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (15:25): Today, I rise to speak about an issue in the electorate of Chaffey concerning Country Health SA. At the moment, they are looking at secretive job cuts. After being informed by the community that Country Health SA was offering targeted voluntary separation packages to local health staff, I became extremely concerned in a region that has been an ideal place for the aged and retiring. It is critical that the large elderly population has good health services.

Given the difficulty in recruiting and retaining doctors in the region, any suggestion that jobs were being cut from our local health services, to me, seemed absurd. Both Country Health SA and the health minister denied that any such packages were being offered. I have asked the minister about these voluntary separation packages and he said that he will come back to me. As yet, I have heard nothing.

Recently, in a local newspaper article, a Country Health SA spokesman said that the most recent round of targeted voluntary separation packages was finalised last year, and yet just eight days after those comments were made Country Health SA has now admitted that these packages were offered to all Country Health SA local network staff. Country Health SA tried to soften the blow by stating that staff involved in direct patient care were not included in the offer and the redundancy offer was supposed to, according to the state government, improve the way we do business and effectively manage resources to ensure that the services we provide are sustainable for the future.

Far too often we have seen this government reduce services, and it is left up to others to pick up the role that is left behind. In this case, doctors and nurses may find themselves forced to do more administrative work to the detriment of patient health. At this stage, I am not aware of how many of these redundancy packages are being offered to health staff in Chaffey, but I do know that one is too many.

The Waikerie and Districts Health Advisory Council presiding member has come out in the media sharing his alarm at this revelation by the government. He believes that the Waikerie Hospital & Health Services is already operating at minimal staffing level and does not know where they could trim anyone from the existing workforce. I agree, our small hospitals in Loxton, Waikerie, Renmark and Barmera are all running as efficiently as possible when it comes to staffing numbers.

We have read in the Labor government's budget that there will be further cuts to health jobs. The Rural Doctors Association has come out and said that it believes that 200 of those jobs will be in rural and regional South Australia. That is the concern I have. It beggars belief that the government continues to neglect rural and regional South Australia. Instead of being offered support in extremely tough economic times, we are being cut to the bone.

We have already heard revelations last year over nursing staff numbers at the Riverland Regional Hospital. We were told that the positions of nursing staff who had resigned remain unfilled. Nursing staff were being asked to work extra shifts and overtime and administrative support was being reduced. At a union meeting in Berri last year, nurses said that they were being put in charge of up to 15 patients rather than the maximum eight in equivalent circumstances. We heard that midwives have been exposed to impossible expectations, by being in charge of a ward while at the same time caring for a woman in active labour and, in some instances, working 18 hours straight and being called in after just hours of sleep.

How does the health sector get to that point? It is the continual sneaky tactics of a government to trim back health numbers that puts patients' care at risk. My concern is that, when the $36 million Riverland Regional Hospital at Berri is complete, this government will reduce services to the surrounding hospitals, despite the passionate calls from community members that these critical elements of life in the Riverland need to be supported.

Another issue is that the hospital boards are being denied access to the auxiliary funds they used to have which are now under the control of the health system, so the money is unable to be spent on providing services and providing upgrades to the hospital. Why is that so? Why are we being denied the opportunity for the hospital to spend their money, supplied by their community with fundraising, on their hospital? It is just not good enough.

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