Hospital promise made

Health Minister Stephen Wade has gone on the record to confirm there is “no intention” for the state government to close the Balaklava hospital.

In fact, he highlighted how the health site is among the five or six in country SA to currently undergo a major health check via a ‘service plan’, run in conjunction with SA Health.

The plan, still to be released, seeks to showcase what is required to maintain and service the health needs of the community into the future.

The body of work will involve public comment received through a community consultation held in the town in May.

Importantly, the minister’s promise to the town came last Wednesday when he was invited by Liberal Frome candidate Penny Pratt to view both the Clare and Balaklava hospitals.

His commitment also follows learning of community angst after ties were severed between the Wakefield Plains Medical Centre and the Balaklava Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in May.

The outcome has resulted in patients admitted to the hospital being supported by a locum doctor.

Yet as the minister sees it, the modern country hospital is transforming into “a health hub,” he told the Plains Producer last week.

“Sure, [the hospital] will still provide procedures … it’s hard to know what, but perhaps about half of the procedures will be done here. If you need a general anaesthetic, you need to go elsewhere. That is the consequence of the closed operating theatre,” he stated.

He quickly reiterated that the site will be maintained as a hospital.

But confusion still remains for the group of community members who last week questioned the state government’s recent budget outcomes and the expiry of their local GPs’ contracts.

Mr Wade was bailed up in front of the town institute by passionate residents, including Lynne Sutton, Shirley Reljich and Lorraine Jenner.

The trio were left unconvinced the state government has the town’s best intentions at heart.

Mrs Reljich believed the minister was misinformed by SA Health as to why the Balaklava doctors are not part of the ongoing care at the hospital.

Asked by the Plains Producer if the recent expiry of contract was the result of doctors seeking fairer wages, Mr Wade did stumble over the question.

“That’s not my understanding. My understanding is that there is a rural contract being negotiated statewide but the issues for the local Balaklava medical practice are much broader based than that,” he said.

“For one thing, my understanding of what I am told is they had trouble filling vacancies,” he said.

Furthermore, Mrs Reljich questioned the recent state funding with regards to health.

“There is over $240 million in the budget that has not been tapped into for country health, of which $165 million is left,” Mrs Reljich later shared on Facebook page ‘Save our Balaklava Hospital’.

“Why can’t $1.5 million be used to update our theatre at the hospital. Our local GPs could keep their anaethetic’s training,” she added.

Mrs Jenner expressed concerns over the current state of the 50-year-old site which she said has had little money spent on upgrades over that time.

Mr Wade maintained that the state’s delivery of care will involve services to support home care, GP recruitment, mental health, with regards to early intervention, and a focus on bringing specialists to the country.   

More broadly, he said he was keen to see a sharing of specialists among the local health networks in SA.

“No matter where you go in the state, the capacity to deliver health services that rural people need is significantly impaired by boundary recruitment and health professionals.”

The other aspect, he said, has been assets.

“When we came to power we inherited a $140 million capital works backlog and we committed to investing to address that backlog over a 10-year period.

“We have gone above and beyond that; the first three years up to March this year we have spent $60 million, actually spent it, not committed it.”

The state government’s capital works, Mr Wade said, has been a major investment when it comes to rural health workforce.

He said the GP recruitment has been a long-term problem for SA.

“One of the major commitments we had was to establish a Rural GP Pathway launched in Port Lincoln May this year, for SA broad.

“Places like the Mid North are in that.”

The minister has further promised Balaklava’s health service plan, supported by the hospital board, will be available to the public once released.