opinion

Steve Martin: Regional hospitals left behind by WA Government

Steve MartinMidwest Times
Geraldton Health Campus.
Camera IconGeraldton Health Campus. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

The Labor Government’s belated attempts to prepare WA’s health system for a COVID–19 outbreak apparently don’t include plans for regional hospitals.

The McGowan Government has had 18 months to prepare our health system. In April last year, Health Minister Roger Cook said our hospitals and health care workers needed to become “battle ready”.

Liberal member for the Agricultural region Steve Martin in Geraldton.
Camera IconLiberal member for the Agricultural region Steve Martin in Geraldton. Credit: Geoff Vivian/The Geraldton Guardian

“Ultimately Western Australia cannot become an island in a global community which has COVID-19 . . . when the storm hits, we’ll be ready,” Mr Cook said.

Despite a record-breaking budget surplus and 18 months to prepare, our health system is floundering and the response seems to be focused on the metropolitan area.

After 18 months of rolling lockdowns, cancelled elective surgeries, and delays and cutbacks on infrastructure spending — including yet another delay at Geraldton Hospital — our health system is no better prepared.

The Labor Government has finally admitted there is a health crisis and WA is woefully unprepared.

In the recent Budget Estimates process in the WA Parliament, it was revealed that not one of the 332 extra beds promised to solve WA’s hospital capacity issue will be in a regional hospital. Not one.

Despite a record-breaking budget surplus and 18 months to prepare, our health system is floundering and the response seems to be focused on the metropolitan area.

We already know that the Labor Government has put the Geraldton Health Campus Project on hold twice and constructed one carpark.

As recently as the 2021 election campaign, the Labor Party promised the upgrade would be finished by 2022.

Works are now not expected to be completed until 2024.

Geraldton’s much-needed upgrade is put on hold while metropolitan health issues will be rushed to the top of the list.

It is telling that the Government’s commitment to extra beds in response to the health crisis sees no additional capacity for regional hospitals, despite hospital resources struggling all over regional WA.

WA Australian Medical Association president Mark Duncan-Smith agreed those extra beds were part of historical planning and did not cater for the steady rise in health needs in regional WA.

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“It’s got nothing to do with COVID-19. COVID-19 is actually helping them out,” Dr Duncan-Smith was reported as saying.

“There’s no slack in the system. Its absolutely unbelievable,” he said.

The WA Country Health service recently agreed with an Australian Medical Association survey that outlined the extent of the crisis.

Dr Andrew Jamieson, WACHS executive director of medical services, recently said: “the AMA survey told us what we already knew.

Our health system is facing unprecedented demand and our most precious commodity — our employees — are feeling it.”

While there is no doubt these problems extend to all our health service providers, we’re particularly exposed in the bush.

Yes we are, Premier McGowan.

The Premier and his Health Minister need to turn their attention to fully preparing regional WA and the country health system for future COVID-19 outbreaks.

When COVID-19 arrives, it won’t just affect Western Australians in the metropolitan area.

The entire State deserves a health system that can protect us all.

Steve Martin is a Liberal MLC representing the Agricultural Region

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