PLEA GOES OUT:  Member for Mallee Anne Webster meets with Mildura Health Private Hospital CEO, Marcus Guthrie.

WITH the South Australian border closed by COVID-19 restrictions, travel between Mildura and Adelaide has been prevented and as a result many Sunraysia patients needing specialist medical treatment have had their case put on hold. 

Speaking at a meeting with Mildura Health Private Hospital CEO Marcus Guthrie, Member for Mallee Anne Webster expressed her concern that the waiting list for elective surgery is swelling to an alarming number and she is calling for action to allow for an exemption for our region to enable South Australian doctors to travel to Mildura.

“In the past six weeks I have become aware that nine specialists who normally travel from SA to Mildura to provide essential health care to our community have been unable to come here due to the border between our two States being closed,” Dr Webster said.

“What we also know is that there are exemptions that have been made for those doctors and others to go to Broken Hill, but they haven’t been extended to Mildura.

“I have been speaking with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt repeatedly about this issue, asking for his input.

“As a result he has contacted the South Australian Health Minister, Stephen Wade, to ask him to reconsider those exemptions that haven’t been provided for Mildura.”

Dr Webster said that in response, Minister Wade spoke to his Chief Medical Officer and in a letter to Greg Hunt he said that the issue relates the recent reported cases in Mildura and our rates of testing.

“Minister Wade said that the concerns surrounded the number of live cases in Mildura and the fact that the information in relation to those hasn’t been clear and they are also unsure about the rate of COVID-19 testing in Mildura,” Dr Webster said. 

“Those two points need to be clarified before exemptions can be given to the doctors to come to Mildura.”

Dr Webster said that some of the cases in Mildura that have been flagged by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had actually turned out not to be COVID-19 cases. 

“We have actually been free of any cases of COVID-19 for more than six weeks and we have highlighted the issue of accurate information being needed for our region with DHHS,” Dr Webster said.

“Therefore, it is absolutely critical to me and those who live in Mildura, that these vital medical services are provided to our community.”

Mr Guthrie reiterated the situation of the nine doctors whose travel movements are restricted by the South Australian quarantine and border closure policies. 

“To put that in perspective, there are more than 200 patients in Mildura who have had their elective surgery deferred, placing them in discomfort and pain,” he said.

“We haven’t had any confirmed COVID cases since the end of April. Therefore, Mildura puts up a strong case that we should be included in the South Australian ‘bubble’ just as Broken Hill, the Northern Territory and Tasmania are at the moment.

“It’s really about giving these doctors the opportunity to treat the patients in Mildura and our region without having to quarantine upon returning to South Australia.”

Mr Guthrie said that medical specialist areas affected include ophthalmology, orthopaedics, general surgery, dentistry and radiography.

“For patients it is extremely frustrating not knowing and the only possible date we have at the moment for the easing of restrictions is July 20,” he said.

Given the spike in cases in Melbourne recently, this may be uncertain, which is why Mr Guthrie wants to see some movement on this issue now.

“We just want some reassurance that proceduralists can be travelling sooner rather than later,” he said. “It would certainly be preferable that they are travelling before July 20,” he said.

“In my discussions with the proceduralists, they have said that they are quite willing to continue on with ‘a symptomatic’ testing before they travel to Mildura, which adds another level of reassurance that we aren’t going to have any more spikes in Mildura from their visits.”

Mr Guthrie said that fortunately for those people requiring urgent medical treatment, the ability to travel to Melbourne and Adelaide is still there.

“For urgent medical treatment the option to travel to Melbourne and also Adelaide for that matter exists, with those travelling to Adelaide being required to quarantine for 14 days to receive that care,” he said.

“However, all the evidence suggests that you will have better clinical outcomes if you have you have your treatment in your home town. 

“It’s far more beneficial for locals to be able to remain in their home town to be treated here and to be able to recover here.”

Dr Webster agreed, adding that the social support available to patients who are treated in their home town is the other added benefit, as is the reduced expenses which would otherwise be associated with having to travel out of the region for medical treatment.

“Having to quarantine for 14 days in South Australia unless you have family members there is an expensive exercise in itself,” she said.

“It further highlights the fact that we can’t just have Melbourne or urban-centric health policy and that the regions must be able to operate differently. 

“In Mildura’s case, we are very isolated and as it is, we already suffer with a disparity in health services because we are a regional centre and so it is very important to me that this situation is resolved.” 

Dr Webster acknowledged that with the spike in cases in Melbourne the threat of further closures of the border was real.

“The Victorian Government is threatening to close down four or five suburbs in Melbourne and to effectively lock them down. Equally, it should be the case that areas that have no cases should have freer movement,” she said.

“We simply want this process expedited so that people can receive the medical treatment that they need in their own town now.”