Benalla Ensign

Prepare regional health services, says Haines

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Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ensure regional health systems, such as Benalla’s, are ready for the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic — and increase funding and staff to regional and rural health services.

As the vaccinatio­n rate increases across the country, and lockdown restrictio­ns ease, health services in the regions are preparing for something many of them have never dealt with before — COVID-19 in their communitie­s.

“In recent weeks I have met with the leaders of health services across the north east,” Dr Haines said.

“From Wodonga and Wangaratta to Benalla and Mansfield and Alexandra, I have been listening to how they are preparing for the next phase of the pandemic.

“Significan­t work is already under way across Indi, with health services working through outbreak scenarios, putting processes in place, working out contingenc­ies and understand­ing what resources are available and what is needed.

“While I have enormous confidence in the work of our local health services, and that they have extremely competent staff, I am concerned that they are fatigued.

“Staff have taken on many additional duties and health services have had to reconfigur­e wards and workflow to accommodat­e COVID-19 precaution­s and presentati­ons.”

Some of the health services in Indi have expressed concern that increased COVID-19 circulatin­g in the community will stretch resources for regional and rural health services that are already stretched.

“We know about the plan for opening up the economy as vaccinatio­n rates climb, but we need to know about targeted longer term plans for our rural health services,” Dr Haines said.

“That plan must include scaled up funding and support for regional health services as COVID enters the community.

“As we continue to open up, we will need access to surge healthcare workers to monitor COVID patients in their homes, and continue our vaccinatio­n drive through an outbreak.

“We need this to manage COVID alongside providing routine care, such as elective surgery, emergency department, and maternity services.

“Transfers to city hospitals must happen swiftly.

“Here in regional Victoria, we do not want a repeat of what has happened in NSW where COVID patients became critical in their homes before transfer to hospital.

“And we need assurances that COVID patients sent to city hospitals will not be ramped and left waiting in ambulances in the streets.”

Dr Haines said regional health was already chronicall­y under-resourced before the pandemic.

Rural communitie­s tend to be older with higher rates of chronic disease and fewer doctors than city communitie­s.

“I don’t want to hear from the Federal Government that this isn’t their problem,” Dr Haines said.

“It was appalling when the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce brushed off questions about the regional response to COVID-19 by saying ‘We don’t own a hospital’.

“The last thing regional health needs right now, is buck passing and politics over who is responsibl­e for our lives and livelihood­s.

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