By John Dooley

FOLLOWING the Mildura Base Public Hospital’s (MBPH) recent announcement of their plans to establish an Academic Health Precinct in Mildura which will form part of the master plan being developed which will also include the building of a new hospital, this week hospital CEO Terry Welch met with Member for Mildura Ali Cupper and Member for Mallee Anne Webster to show that they are all united in the push to see this become a reality.

MBPH CEO Terry Welch has just returned from a fact-finding tour of several university teaching hospitals on the Eastern Seaboard, which he said confirmed the model the base is planning is the right one.

“It was a really fascinating tour. We were fortunate to visit the Gold Coast Hospital, the University of Canberra Hospital and Cabrini Private in Melbourne,” he said.

“Each hospital has very different infrastructure and sets-ups, but what it told us was, the model we are putting forward − which is complete integration − a university placed within a hospital, is possible. And that was the key part of the fact-finding mission.

“Anne Webster has been talking about it for a long time and we have had a broad vision and now what you have been seeing in the last month, is that vision being pulled together into a rock-solid model.

“We are all very clear that whether it’s the universities, the health services, Anne or Ali, this is what we need for this northern Mallee and broader region and we are determined to do it and we can see how we can do that now.”

Mr Welch said that of course all of this is dependent of funding from both commonwealth and state governments.

“Absolutely it will need funding support, but it also needs the commitment of key partners and that is what we have,” he said.
Like all major infrastructure projects, a business case needs to be developed to demonstrate the benefits to the community of multi-billion dollar investment which is what the hospital’s master plan aims to do.

“The master plan does exactly that,” Mr Welch said. “It tests all of the models that we need moving forward, but also the research that we have done, together with what both Anne and Ali have been talking about for a long time.

“That it is well proven, if you train locally, support people locally to be recruited and educated here, the retention rate, even if they leave for a period, they will return, this is their base and it’s about creating that base.

“This is a program around building capital infrastructure and it’s probably the biggest social capital program we will have seen.

“We are very confident that we have the support from all relevant areas to do this and now it’s just a matter of timing and the master plan is absolutely step number one in that process.”

Dr Webster said that you have to build projects like this incrementally.

“I think the wet-lab that would be located at La Trobe University is absolutely one of those first steps and I really want to see that happen and I will continue to advocate for that,” she said.

“The wet-lab and the Biomed course would be the foundation for so many other courses as well − not just medicine − but other allied health and stem programs and so it’s a key foundational piece. I’m quietly confident that this can be achieved, but until we have somebody who has signed on the dotted line, we just have to wait and see.”

Dr Webster said that having secondary school students being able to remain locally to study a medical course here would be incredibly valuable for the whole region.

“If we can create that pipeline without it having any holes in it right the way through to post-grad, we will have our new doctors, nurses and other allied health workers, including specialists, trained locally,” she said.

With a federal election just around the corner Dr Webster said she is in campaign mode, but that has been the case since she was elected in 2019.

“I have been in campaign mode for three years,” she said.

“That’s what it is – you lobby hard for your electorate for the things that you know are going to make a significant difference for the long-term benefit of the region. And so I am still fighting hard for better health outcomes in Mallee.”

Dr Webster said that she has been in discussions with ministers in Canberra on these issues, including with NSW Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley.

“I had a discussion with Sussan Ley in Canberra last week about this plan and she thoroughly backs it as well,” she said.

“We also have Tony Pasin, the Liberal Member for Barker in South Australia, on the other side of the border, and so federally, we are committed which is a good story.”

Ms Cupper said that the master plan being developed by the MBPH is an exciting project that will benefit the region enormously.

“We know that the best hospitals are teaching hospitals,” she said. “We know that we are particularly isolated and this is an argument that I have been making for a long time that our isolation isn’t the reason why we should settle for second-best.

“Our isolation is the reason why we should be getting the best every single time, especially when it comes to essential things like health care.

“When this hospital was built it wasn’t designed for growth. It was a privatised build and the privatised contract was really attractive if you were trying to make a buck.

“Because it said ‘you don’t have to a thing to this building for 20 years’.

“Not so good for the public interest and their health care and that’s where this plan links with bringing the Mildura Base Hospital back in to public management.

“Some things don’t mix and profit and patients don’t mix. Now we have the State Government’s attention which is absolutely what the community wanted.”

Ms Cupper said that she had been immensely encouraged by Minister for Health Martin Foley’s response to her recent question in the Victorian Parliament, where she asked if he would call on the Federal Government to support the investment needed for an Academic Health Precinct in Mildura.

“His response to my question was heartening, but we are not going to know where we stand until that money is in the bank,” she said.

“We hope that the government is going to look upon this seat favourably, not just in terms of the budget, but also in terms of coming into the election this year because we matter.

“Part of the journey over the last three years has been to highlight to the government where we are being left behind and how that is not in the interest of the overall state.

“We aren’t getting the support we need in regard to tourism marketing, if we were to get that attention, it would benefit the entire state.

“We aren’t getting the rail funding that we need. If we got that rail funding it would be to the benefit of the whole state and it’s the same with health care.”