House debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Rural and Regional Health Services

7:48 pm

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

It was great this morning to be part of an event really drawing attention to World Suicide Prevention Day in conjunction with my good friend and colleague the member for Berowra. The Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and also the shadow minister for health were in attendance. We talked a lot about the issues that related to suicide, and highlighting the dynamics, particularly in rural and regional areas, was a particular focus for us. I'd like to take this opportunity to make a call to arms for a similar bipartisan approach to deal with the general issues of rural and regional health.

There is a crisis going on in rural and regional areas, and we need to get a full-court press on both sides of this place directed at the effort of solving it. I had the opportunity to meet with the National Rural Health Alliance this week. They have produced good materials focusing on this issue. I'll give a couple of quick examples. Rural people are 47 per cent more likely to have diabetes, 50 per cent more likely to have cancer and 20 per cent more likely to have kidney disease. That is just a sample of the sorts of health issues we're confronting.

I think a lot of this was brought home last night to anybody who watched the Four Corners report on the crisis in rural and regional health. One of the case studies they highlighted related to an incident that occurred in Bega hospital, which is in the electorate of Eden-Monaro. The program was a series of case studies; it didn't step back and look at some of the systemic issues we're facing. I could offer so many more case studies from my region that are even more tragic. Examples include the recent inquest into the death of young Naomi Williams. Naomi was a proud 27-year-old Wiradjuri woman from Tumut who was 22 weeks pregnant with a son when she died of septicaemia at Tumut Hospital in January 2016. Ms Williams had presented 20 times to Tumut Hospital, and her condition was not adequately dealt with. In the findings that were handed down in a packed courtroom in the Tumut local court on 29 July, the coroner, Harriet Grahame, said there were clear and ongoing inadequacies in the care that Ms Williams received and that she felt unheard by her doctors and staff. It was an enormous tragedy, which the community is still trying to come to grips with.

Another example is that of an 18-year-old boy in Tumut who committed suicide. It was a tragic situation. When we were in government, under our health and hospital funding agreement, we put $50 million into Wagga base hospital, which allowed wonderful new pathology facilities to be established there. The only problem is that there is no pathologist, so the body of this young boy had to be taken to Newcastle for procedures to be conducted, adding weeks to the trauma and stress for his family.

I recently had contact with a young mother in Queanbeyan who has a daughter who suffers severely from high-level autism. Her daughter is 13 years of age and has other issues presenting around her, as well. There is no facility within our region, the vast region of Eden-Monaro, to deal with that situation. There are two beds in the ACT to deal with kids in this situation, both of which were filled. Goulburn, the only health facility within reach of anybody in my region, is full of adults in difficult circumstances. Her daughter had to be held in the emergency ward at Queanbeyan hospital. She was finally moved to Goulburn temporarily, but the door of her room had to be locked because she was in amongst a group of adults. It took that girl's mother, who's a mother of three and a working woman, reaching out to politicians of all stripes to get something done. Finally, her child went to Randwick in Sydney. She lives in Queanbeyan.

This is an enormous stress for people in our region. We have an accommodation crisis for patients from New South Wales who come to the ACT for medical treatment. I'm getting reports from constituents who say that the family accommodation in the ACT has now been closed. This is a terrible situation that I have been hearing in all the town hall meetings I did during the last break between sittings. We need the New South Wales government to sit down with the ACT and resolve that accommodation situation immediately. It's causing great distress.

I've written to the Minister for Health to get the situation in Tumut addressed in terms of a health workforce, which is playing out around the region. In the short term, we need the Tumut area to be designated as a declaration priority area so that incentives can be used to get a medical workforce into the Tumut area. We need to get back to a health and hospital agreement in this nation that addresses this crisis, and we need to do it urgently. You want jobs in the regions? Get that health workforce issue addressed. There are 44,000 jobs out there, 25 per cent of them are health workforce jobs.