Mansfield Courier

North East hospitals brace

Regional healthcare prepares for demand spike ahead of COVID opening

- By RYAN MALCOLM

AS the state hurtles towards reopening in line with the National Plan, Independen­t MP for Indi, Helen Haines, has called on more federal support for regional hospitals already feeling the crunch.

Northeast Health Wangaratta (NHW) acting chief executive officer Robyn Gillis said the ongoing pandemic had heaped pressure on staff and left many “tired”, even before an expected uptick in demand over coming weeks, as metropolit­an and interstate borders begin to open up.

“The biggest threat for our service is unvaccinat­ed people holidaying in our region and they get unwell - our ability to serve that increase in demand will be challengin­g,” she said.

“If they just go and get vaccinated I really hope that Victorians can have a holiday up here, come to the North East and enjoy their time up here.

“We have about six of our staff who are furloughin­g at the moment - when we have those tier sites, what we do experience in a country town is that if it is your local supermarke­t, our staff live here and they go to these places.

“If I could have 50 new staff right now it would be great, and we’re actively recruiting - but it is quite competitiv­e.”

Dr Haines urged the Federal Government to implement an ‘overarchin­g plan’, which would provide further support to state government­s to upgrade and appropriat­ely resource regional health centres.

Travel between metropolit­an and regional Victoria is slated to begin in early November.

“The Federal Government needs to step up the amount of dollars it puts forward to the state government­s,” Dr Haines said.

“Rural and regional health services are different to metropolit­an health services, and the plans need to be specific to them.

“Until now, we haven’t had large amounts of circulatin­g COVID virus.

“My concern is to make sure the Federal Government recognises that once the National Plan occurs, once we open up, we will see more circulatin­g virus in our rural and regional areas and our health services need to have every resource available to them to manage that.”

According to Dr Haines, infrastruc­ture support such as the ongoing works at NHW were urgently needed across the region, while a federal focus on young medical profession­als could assist in alleviatin­g future staffing pressures in rural health centres.

“Rural and regional health even before the pandemic were under enormous pressure - it’s much harder to find a workforce in rural and regional Australia,” she said.

“When you get them it’s hard to keep them.

“Our workforce is aging, it’s tired, but it’s skilled and I want them to pass on those skills to a new generation.

“Federal investment in young people to take on health careers I think is vital.”

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