Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (12:48): I, too, rise to make a contribution to one of the most important agencies in South Australian government budgets, because we all know too well how important a good, robust health system is. What the member for Schubert has brought to the table seems to have agitated the government members because I think, rightfully so, they were elected on the premise that they would fix ramping. Along the course of the past 12 months we have seen ramping almost double.
It is outrageous that we have had the member for Hurtle Vale, and other members of the government backbench who were not in this place in a previous government, who never really experienced how the now Premier, the now member for Croydon, who was then a member of the Legislative Council but also the then Minister for Health, oversaw the initiative Transforming Health, one of the greatest failures in South Australia's health history.
We also saw what Transforming Health did to the health system in South Australia. It put huge doubt on the capacity of what we would see in our health system. It was not about providing better health services; it was about adjusting the spend in the health system, dealing with the budget and making health savings that were going to see detrimental damage over a number of years to the health system in South Australia.
We saw downgrades of some of those outer hospitals, such as Modbury and Noarlunga. We saw the downgrade of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and we are also dealing with the transition of the original Adelaide hospital, which is now known as the NRAH. The Royal Adelaide Hospital back then was old and outdated, but we saw a huge budget blowout on what is now the centrepiece of the health system in South Australia. The NRAH has seen significant challenges in ironing out all the wrinkles and with all the issues that hospital was brought up with.
What we see now is a government that is continually pointing the finger at what the former Liberal government did within the health system. We had record spending. We saw an extensive upgrade of beds and doctors and made sure that mental health was dealt with and we also dealt with the COVID pandemic. Sadly, COVID has put a significant strain on the health system, not only with people being admitted to hospital with symptoms of the pandemic but also significant strain on the mental health system.
We know that people who present themselves to emergency departments are not able to have a bandaid or to have a cast put on a broken arm. They are there with long-term issues that cannot be fixed overnight and that is why we have seen a significant clogging up of our health system and our emergency departments. The former Liberal government put a lot of measures in place: increasing bed numbers and increasing capacity to get flow through of ambulances.
The now Malinauskas Labor government really has deceived South Australians by coming into government vowing to fix ramping and vowing to fix the health system. We know it is not going to be an easy fix, but we have seen the doubling of ramping. We have seen some of the sneaky tricks that the government has put in place to try to hide what is now very evident: that South Australians were deceived by a very tricky, well-planned and thought-out process to fix the ramping crisis.
Along the way, there has been much talked about with a lot of the upgrades to the health system, particularly at our hospitals. The incoming government were going to do the expansion at the Lyell McEwin Hospital. They are kicking the can down the road at every opportunity. It was going to be December 2022, but it is now March 2024. Stage 3 of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was going to be completed in June 2024, but it is now March 2025. The Flinders Medical Centre expansion was going to be completed by 2028, but it is now June 2029.
The new Women's and Children's Hospital would have had the sods turned. That would now be under construction, under a former Marshall Liberal government. We are now looking at an estimation of 2032. Not even in this decade is this Women's and Children's Hospital, a much-needed hospital, going to be started, let alone completed. I think we need to put a bit of balance into this argument.
I want to discuss a few of the really important health issues in my electorate of Chaffey. The former Liberal government did great work to make sure that we had health initiatives and health systems in place so that it would help some of my country constituents to not have to travel for procedures or treatment at a faraway hospital. In most instances, that hospital journey was three hours.
It is a three-hour journey away from home, away from loved ones, particularly for cancer treatment, particularly with the high levels of stress that are attached to health procedures. Of that three-hour journey down to Adelaide to have a procedure, we then had to make a three-hour journey home, and that comes at great cost. Not only are you not in your workplace, not surrounded by the support of family and friends and community but it is a costly exercise if you have to stay overnight, if you have to incur the travel expenses and all the other associated costs with health.
I do acknowledge that the former Liberal government was going to double the PATS (Patient Assistance Transport Scheme). We did not do it; the current government did it. I give them credit for what they did because it was long overdue. We saw many, many reviews of the PATS system and it all amounted to very little. What we saw and what we are seeing now is that there is some level of recognition for the hardship and the economic challenge that it is to seek medical and procedural advice when having to come down to our major hospitals here in Adelaide.
The electorate of Chaffey has a number of hospitals. All those hospitals are there giving the best health care they can. Some of them are being sadly downgraded to aged-care facilities, but what we have seen is that the regional hospital in Berri is now the centrepiece of the health system in the Riverland, and the Mallee to some degree. We are seeing that the Renmark hospital still has a capacity to undertake health procedures, and with Loxton hospital, Waikerie hospital and Barmera—they are four critical pieces of infrastructure as part of the health system within the Riverland.
I must say that I would also like to pay respect and thank my HAC (Health Advisory Council) volunteers. The health advisory councils are manned by volunteers. They do great work and they are part of keeping that health system going, making sure that they advise of the issues at hand and making sure we have a health system that is acceptable. We also have to acknowledge some of the hospitals, particularly at Waikerie and Loxton, for the auxiliary funds that have kept those hospitals alive. We have seen significant money, whether it be from bequeathed philanthropic-type arrangements, which has been put into services or upgraded services to see where we will have ongoing capacity to keep those hospitals alive.
I must thank Sally Goode and Justin Loffler as two of my HAC representatives because they are the two hospitals that have seen those auxiliary funds shared and put into the community to keep those health services alive. I want to also mention the helipad, particularly at the Berri regional hospital, because it is a vital piece of infrastructure that sadly has not seen the upgrade that it was promised.
To all the health staff, nurses, administration, our doctors, and all our frontline health services and staff, I say thank you; thank you for the work you do and thank you for going above and beyond, because health is a very important part of everyday life and it is an important part of living in regional South Australia.