Tuesday, 28 November 2023
O'Connor Electorate: Health Care
Delivering first-class health care in the bush is always a challenge and, with an electorate spanning over 1.1 million square kilometres of regional, rural and remote Western Australia, O'Connor has had its share of health hits and misses in 2023. First a hit: last Tuesday I was privileged to speak, along with the assistant minister, who is here with us tonight, at the opening of the Goldfields University Department of Rural Health, a satellite campus of Curtin University co-located in the legendary WA School of Mines, in Kalgoorlie. This opening was a culmination of many years of lobbying by Curtin University, in particular by Professor Helen McCutcheon, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Health Sciences, and Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne. I'm proud to have played a small role in securing $13 million for Curtin through the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program.
The Goldfields UDRH currently hosts metropolitan students for residential placements in nursing and occupational therapy and supports Goldfields allied health students in realising their dreams of a tertiary education close to home and community. The UDRH will also play a critical role in attracting health professionals to the Goldfields and growing a strong and capable local allied health workforce. I commend Curtin University and their project partners, the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Western Operations) and the WA Country Health Service, who together with Bega Garnbirringu Aboriginal health service are embarking on a new journey in health education provision for the greater Goldfields.
Finally, I take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Helen McCutcheon on her retirement and thank her for seeing this project through to fruition. Helen, I hope you can retire secure in the legacy of an allied healthcare training pipeline that will benefit the Goldfields for a long time into the future.
Now to a miss: the northern Goldfields town of Laverton is home to one of the most remote hospitals in O'Connor and the country. It services the town and many mine sites, pastoral stations and remote Aboriginal communities between Laverton and the tri-state border. On 3 April 2019, the coalition government committed $16.8 million to rebuild Laverton Hospital, which was no longer fit for purpose. Over four years later, not even a single sod has been turned, and the WA Labor government continues to make excuses for why this federal funding has not been spent.
On ABC Radio recently, Laverton Shire President Patrick Hill asked Premier Cook directly when exactly this hospital would be built. Premier Cook acknowledged that the project had been delayed under his watch as health minister in the name of budget repair, and the shire had been very understanding at that time. Now the excuse is that they can't find a tenderer, and the budget has apparently blown out to over $30 million. But, despite the shire tipping in an extra $4 million, the project remains at a standstill. Tonight I urge Premier Cook to make good on his long-overdue commitment to deliver a much-needed hospital service to Laverton and the community beyond.
Another miss: a headspace for the Warren-Blackwood region was promised by the coalition government back in 2022 after years of lobbying by the Blackwood Youth Action group, chaired by Dr Sarah Youngson. This Labor government did not honour that promise, despite clear indications that the communities of the region were in crisis, with youth suicide rates in Manjimup up to 50 per cent higher than the state average. The WA Primary Health Alliance recognised the unmet need for local youth mental health services, and BYA demonstrated the professional capacity in the region to support a headspace. I join BYA in making separate appeals to Minister Butler, who, despite commending BYA on their terrific work, did not offer funding certainty—only platitudes that their youth in crisis could access eheadspace or travel over 120 kilometres to the nearest face-to-face headspace. I urge Minister Butler to pay more than just lip service to BYA and put the Warren-Blackwood region on a priority list for mental health funding before young lives are tragically lost.
I close with a mixed hit and miss. Nurse practitioners are an amazing asset to the medical profession, being able to consult, diagnose, prescribe and write referrals. The Wheatbelt Shire of Westonia has an accomplished, popular and award-winning local nurse practitioner who recently secured a place through the federal government nurse practitioner pilot program.
Unfortunately, despite providing medical premises, a regular stipend and monthly support from a visiting doctor, the Shire of Westonia has not secured their bid to be a provider. Instead, our nurse practitioner has been matched with an Aboriginal health service 250 kilometres away in the Goldfields. This nonsensical mismatch will see the shire lose a valued medical practitioner after 11 years of faithful service to her community. I once again call on Minister Butler to address how this pilot can better meet the needs of communities who don't have a doctor but do want to support the services of their capable nurse practitioner.