NSW Labor today released its strategy to improve health services in the Illawarra over the short and long term, as part of its schools and hospitals before stadiums election plan.
This was announced by NSW Labor Leader Michael Daley, Shadow Treasurer and Shadow Minister for the Illawarra, Ryan Park, Shellharbour MP Anna Watson and Wollongong MP Paul Scully.
The NSW Labor plan includes:
- A commitment to the $251 million Shellharbour Hospital upgrade;
- A commitment to the $37 million Bulli Hospital upgrade;
- A $5 million upgrade for the maternity unit at Wollongong Hospital;
- A $4.5 million upgrade to the children’s ward at Wollongong Hospital;
- An additional $1 million to fund eating disorder treatment services at Shellharbour Hospital;
- A comprehensive, independent review of Illawarra health care to identify areas in need of additional resources and improvements charting a “path forward”, including paediatric services at Wollongong Hospital to begin within 100 days of the March election (the review will be undertaken by an independent external person); and
- A pledge of no privatisations of public hospitals under Labor – after the successful community-led campaign against the Liberal-Nationals’ privatisation in September 2016 of Shellharbour Hospital.
The comprehensive and independent review of health care in the Illawarra region will examine the following key areas including:
- Elective surgery procedures;
- Emergency department presentations;
- Need for specialist surgeon services, including for paediatric and cardiothoracic procedures;
- Adequacy of medical, ancillary and other staff;
- Resourcing and funding;
- Infrastructure – both surgical and non-surgical;
- Dental treatment;
- Management capability; and
- Workplace cultural issues to address bullying and harassment.
As part of the review specific paediatric services will be examined including:
- The need for a dedicated paediatric surgeon;
- Resourcing of paediatric services;
- Adequacy of post-op treatment for paediatric surgery patients;
- Current levels of paediatric training of support staff such as anaesthetics and nurses;
- Current referral pathways for paediatric surgeries; and
- Appropriateness of surgical suites for paediatric surgery.
Over the last few years the Illawarra’s hospital system has been under pressure and has been expected to do more without the resources that match the region’s growing and changing needs.
Mr Scully said there has been ongoing concern that the Wollongong Hospital’s children’s ward was failing local families.
Parents have spoken out about basic surgical procedures being unavailable to them locally – forcing patients to travel to Sydney for adequate care.
In 2013, Wollongong lost its only paediatric surgeon. In response, the State Government has said that the recruitment of a special paediatric surgeon is a challenge and there is a national shortage.
There have been concerns from local families in the Illawarra that there is an insufficient eating disorder healthcare for local patients.
In 2015 the Liberal Government promised a cardio-thoracic surgeon to be based at Wollongong Hospital – and this promise remains unfulfilled.
Wollongong Hospital is one of the most overstretched hospitals in NSW, with patients waiting 286 days for ear, nose and throat surgery, 344 days for hip replacement surgery and 346 days for knee replacement surgery.
As at the end of September 2018, the elective surgery waiting list at Wollongong Hospital had hit a record high of 2,397 patients – an increase of 50 per cent since the March 2015 quarter. Last year, 2,535 babies were born at Wollongong Hospital and 40 per cent of patients waited in the hospital’s emergency department after four hours.
Shellharbour hospital emergency department is one of the busiest outside of Sydney, admitting more than 30,000 patients each year.
More than a third (36 per cent) of patients attending Shellharbour Hospital emergency department face a wait of four hours or more and 10 per cent of patients face a wait of more than eight hours and 42 minutes. In the most recent reporting quarter, there were 2,077 patients waiting for surgery and patients who had received surgery waited 266 days for cataract; 318 days for orthopaedic surgery and a median of 294 days for non-urgent surgery.