Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (11:53): I, too, rise to make a contribution to a very good motion by the member for Narungga. He obviously understands and recognises the shortcomings when providing a good medical service in the regions of South Australia. For far too long we have seen people of the regions having to travel extensive distances with the shortcoming of having those services in our local hospitals or in our local towns due to the shortage of medical practitioners.
In the great electorate of Chaffey, I have a number of hospitals, probably more than most. I deal with the Renmark Paringa hospital, which is an institution that has been there for many decades. We also have the Riverland General Hospital in Berri, which is the centrepiece of health services in the Riverland. We also have the Barmera hospital, which has been closed a number of times in a recent period due to staff shortages, and that has cast doubt over the ongoing viability of that hospital. Congratulations, as those staff have returned and the department has had it back up and running.
The Waikerie hospital has also had the shortcoming of not having enough staff, particularly with the birthing suite and particularly with midwives, to keep that service open. Again, it is still short on midwives and so the birthing suite is still closed. The Karoonda hospital lost services over recent years, but I must say that a centralised model is not really part of the fabric of a regional town.
What we are seeing is that Karoonda continue to lose those expert medical frontline people because they are finding it hard to attract doctors, attract nurses, attract the frontline expertise and retain them in those smaller country hospitals. The Loxton hospital is a very worthy country hospital that does a great job and that is renowned for a great ability, particularly in obstetrics, and I congratulate that community.
I want to comment on all these hospitals that are supported by volunteers. Many volunteers come in and play a role in keeping the doors open and the lights on, raising money for the auxiliary fund, raising money for upgrades in infrastructure into those hospitals, and I think they all should be commended for the great work they do. We all know that regional hospitals are part of the fabric of a regional community.
I would also like to thank all my volunteers as my HAC representatives on those hospital boards. It is imperative that they play a role—as a volunteer, they are the eyes and ears on those health advisory councils—so that they come back to me and give me an update on and an understanding of just what the shortfalls or the issues are at those particular hospitals. As I have said, all six hospitals in the region need doctors, nurses, midwives. They all need frontline staff and administration, and they need their volunteers. It is getting tough, and it is becoming tougher and tougher to retain health professionals in those smaller areas.
While we are talking about providing services, it is very disappointing that the incoming Malinauskas government has seen it fit not to support those who have to travel for health services. Potentially, what we are seeing is a government that again is drawing a line in the sand with a very thin understanding of what it means to travel out of a faraway regional or outback centre to undertake health services.
We are seeing that the PAT Scheme does help subsidise the cost of travelling. We know that the cost of living at the moment is severely impacting the ability of families to travel for those health services. I have had many people come to my office making a decision: will they travel or won't they travel? They cannot afford to. It is not only the emotional strain of having to travel away from home, away from your family, away from your job. Potentially, what we are seeing is that people are forgoing any health appointments or any health treatment because either they cannot afford it or it impacts on their capability of travelling away from home due to the cost.
I think it was just mean. It was mean of the minister and it was mean of the government not to put into their budget help for cost of living, for travelling to those health appointments from 16¢, as the Marshall Liberal government gave a commitment to increase it from 16¢ to 32¢ a kilometre. I think that was just a small token to support those having to travel.
Mental health, suicide prevention and substance abuse play a big role in regional settings, and country hospitals have finite resources in dealing with those issues. Particularly with suicide, it is all around substance abuse. It does have a connection with mental health, particularly with regional work and agriculture. Primary producers are the main victims of those three issues. As the shadow minister for all those three areas, I think the most important thing is the ability to have a visiting psychologist come to regional hospitals and regional settings so that we can identify and treat early the impacts of mental health and substance abuse.
I would also like to pay tribute to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. There are 600 journeys to the Riverland per year. The newly announced transfer facility at Renmark is much applauded. I want to thank both Tony Vaughan and Peter de Cure for their great leadership at the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They do an outstanding job with all the volunteers, raising money to make sure that institution is relevant. It not only provides an outstanding service into the regions but a service that the standard public health system just cannot cope with. They have done an outstanding job. Through the COVID pandemic, some of the work they did was second to none. I thank them for their dedication.
I would also like to thank Flinders University for the training facility at the Renmark campus. It has multidisciplinary health education. I congratulate Professor Paul Worley on his great advocacy and the work he has done over time in bringing those training facilities. We know that the best way to retain doctors is to have regional people, local people, do their training in a local setting. It is the easiest way to retain doctors and health professionals, just like the RACE program under the guidance of Paul Worley.
We are looking for both state and federal acknowledgement that the regional accreditation centre of excellence is a great program. It is about locals living, training and being retained in those local settings, keeping medical professionals local so that we do not have to go out there looking, hunting for doctors, trying to bring them out to the regional settings. We know it is just such a hard job.
In finishing, I also would like to put the government on notice about the COVID-19 clinic that has just been taken away from Berri and moved to Waikerie. We understand that the Riverland west area has seen a significant increase in positive COVID cases in recent times, so the clinic has been taken down to Waikerie, but there is no certainty as to where it will go after 30 June. I am calling on the government to give some certainty and some clarity—transparency, it is called. The minister needs to come out and make an announcement about exactly what sort of service and clinic will be provided to the good people of the Riverland in retaining that vital service.
I thank the member for Narungga for his motion. It is very important for regional South Australia that we have a staffed, relevant health institution, just like they do here in the city.