A stall in doctor contract agreements at Wakefield Plains Medical Clinic has led to a locum doctor now slotted in to provide 24/7 emergency cover at Balaklava hospital.
Last week SA Health told Plains Producer an “expiry of contract” has occurred between the doctors at the Wakefield Plains Medical Clinic and the Balaklava Soldiers’ Memorial District Hospital.
It means patients now admitted to the hospital will be supported by a visiting doctor.
Balaklava residents Jeff and Lynne Sutton believe the outcome is a blow to their community.
Mr Sutton, who describes the move as “horrifying”, raised fears for the hospital’s future.
“The government is looking at spending money to keep the town going and kneecaps the town with this change,” he said.
Mr Sutton believes the state government has an agenda to make the hospital into a nursing home.
“That’s the only reason I can think of,” he said.
He further highlighted that the reasoning over the contract expiry was conflicting.
Mr Sutton said he was led to believe that the contract renewal did not go forward due to doctors seeking “more money” rather than staff shortage.
“At the moment someone is not telling the truth.”
His wife, a former nurse who worked shifts at the hospital, still holds hope for the hospital’s long-term future, by way of an upgrade to see the return of surgical services and more local doctors available to the community.
“It is just in the all too hard basket at the moment,” she said.
Mrs Sutton’s optimism led her in March last year to instigate a petition which gained about 900 local signatures in support of reinstating the surgical theatre closed at the hospital.
The service has since been relocated to Clare Hospital.
“I started that [survey] just before COVID-19 came in and I only had about a week and a half to get it all up,” she said.
The survey was forwarded to the SA Health Minister Stephen Wade by Frome MP Geoff Brock with no formal outcome.
Meanwhile, questions put to SA Health by Plains Producer did not rule out locums travelling in from interstate, including Victoria and Western Australia.
In response, Dr Tom Lemon, based at Wakefield Plains Medical Clinic, explained that their contract “negotiations stalled” at the end of their previous contract (end of May), with communications ongoing with the health service.
“We remain committed to our patients’ care and will not affect the running of the Wakefield Plains Medical Clinic,” he said.
Yet a statement forwarded by SA Health on behalf of Yorke and Northern Local Network (YNLHN) CEO Roger Kirtchner cited that the decision centred on staffing issues.
“The Wakefield Plains Medical Clinic have advised it is not able to enter into a new arrangement due to a shortage of doctors available to participate in the medical roster at the Balaklava Soldiers’ Memorial District Hospital,” Mr Kirtchner explained.
The YNLHN highlighted how it has “immediately staffed” the Balaklava hospital with locum doctors to ensure ongoing medical support for the site.
It is understood the doctor on call will reside in a unit at the hospital.
Both Mr Kirtchner and Dr Lemon maintained that a “good relationship” continues between the clinic and the network.
“We will continue to work together on a longer term model,” Mr Kirtchner said.
Details of the model are yet to be revealed.
Ironically, last week’s announcement fell less than a month after community consultation was hosted in the town by SA Health, keen to survey residents to gather an insight into key health needs and service opportunities for the hospital.
YNLHN executive director of Nursing and Midwifery Michael Eades had said in late May “what we are doing today is talking about what we can do, what else is needed and where are the gaps that enable people to live well and be healthy in their community”.
At the time, he also responded to community concerns over a possible hospital closure by saying “…that’s certainly not not on our discussion board, this is seeing what else is needed”.
“We’re asking ‘Well, what do we need to be in this community to help people stay and live locally and live well?’,” he had said.
The YNLHN will reveal their survey results later this month.