Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on her visit to Mildura. Photos: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

IT was a busy schedule for Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos when she visited Mildura this week.

Her number one priority was to meet with local community members, health professionals and the Member for Mildura Ali Cupper – all of whom are pushing hard to have the Mildura Base Hospital (MBH) returned to public management. 

The Minister’s first port of call, however, was the MBH, where she officially opened the newly redeveloped Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and high-dependency unit.

The $2.48million project was funded from the $350million Regional Health Infrastructure Fund, with MBH receiving more than $8million in grants since the fund was established in 2016.

The Minister praised the management and staff of the hospital for their dedicated work and high standard of care, and said that she wanted to improve services for country Victoria.

“I want to make sure that we provide equity for rural and regional Victorians by looking after the entire health care needs across the State,” she said.

“No matter where people live, to ensure that they can access great health care services close to their home, and the Health Infrastructure Fund is all about providing that care.”

Ramsay Health Director of Corporate Services, Adam Stevenson, thanked the Government for their support of the hospital, and for the grant, and said the redeveloped ICU was the result of a lot of hard work by many people. 

“The project was undertaken in direct response to the needs of our growing community and the health needs and acuity of the patients that we serve,” he said. “The introduction of our Tele-Health service and our ICU and HDU presentations has meant that demand was outgrowing our capacity.

“Unfortunately at times this meant patients were needing to be transferred out of the district. 

“Now, 18 months later, we are standing here today in this expanded state-of-the-art ICU, and what a huge difference these facilities have, and will continue, to make to the patients that we care for.”

The Government is being lobbied heavily by Ms Cupper, who has run a campaign calling for the hospital to be put back into public hands.

Prior to meeting with local community members and health experts, the Minister was presented with a petition containing 2188 signatures supporting Ms Cupper’s stance.

“I have already spoken to Ali about this issue, and clearly as the local member she is putting the views of her local community to me and the Government, and I thank her for her advocacy,” Minister Mikakos said. 

“I’m looking forward to hearing the range of views that are being put in regard to the management of the hospital, and therefore we need to take any decision in a considered manner.”

The Minister was asked if she was in a position to say whether the Government had made its mind up on how the hospital will be managed once the current contract term for Ramsay Health expires.

“No decision has been made as yet, part of my visit to Mildura is a fact-finding mission to hear first-hand the concerns of locals and other stakeholders,” she said. “I’m not here today to make any announcements about the future of the Mildura Base Hospital, but what I would say is a decision is not too far away.

“I think it’s important to give this local community some certainty about the future of its health needs going forward, and I will be making a decision very soon.

“I thought it was very important for me to hear directly from the community before making a decision, and in doing so, I will also be considering the future health needs of Mildura, as well as issues around performance – there are a range of factors that will influence my consideration.”

Ramsay Health plan to inject $13million of funding into upgrades to the Mildura Base Hospital should their tenure be extended, something the Government is factoring into their decision-making.

“I acknowledge the fact that Ramsay have put an offer on the table which is getting appropriate consideration by the government as you would expect,” she said.

“In my own local community we lost a hospital under the Kennett Government as well, and I was a community advocate against the selling-off of the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, and I have seen the consequences of that decision.”

Question goes unanswered

Minister Mikakos was asked that if the Government did return the hospital to public control, would they guarantee that services would be better than they currently are – something she didn’t directly address in her answer.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that all of our health services do incredible work right across Victoria,” she said. “In particular, I want to thank all of the staff for their incredible dedication and knowledge, including those at the Mildura Base, for their response to the early start to the flu season, which has impacted every health service, and has seen a spike in emergency department presentations right across Victoria.

“There is no easy fix to the issues. We do have a shortage of GPs across regional Victoria, and I look forward to working with Greg Hunt and the Federal Government on this, because we need to ensure that we retain and attract more GPs and other health professionals.”

As part of her visit, the Minister also met with local paramedics, whose efforts in achieving their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), she strongly praised.

“The latest performance data show that the local paramedics have improved their response times compared to when we came into Government,” she said. “They are now responding to Code 1 emergencies, which are the most critical emergencies – strokes and heart attacks – within the required 15-minute period in 84 percent of cases. 

“That is a real credit to them, because we know that every minute, every second, makes a real difference.”