Albury Wodonga Health is already one of the busiest regional health services in regional Victoria and regional New South Wales. As the population on the border grows it will only get busier. People right across Indi use Albury Wodonga Health services and we need a new hospital on the border before it’s over capacity. Within 15 years the border population will grow by one third. By 2040 we will need a hospital capable of handling 150,000 emergency presentations, 40,000 surgeries and 1,900 births per year.
As a former nurse and a midwife who worked in north-east Victoria for decades, I know how much stronger our communities will be with new facilities, from neonatal care right through to aged care. Albury Wodonga Health are finalising a master plan for publication next month which will set out just what our community will need in a health service for decades to come. Now is the time for the federal government to step up and commit to funding this new hospital.
In the past fortnight over 700 of my constituents have signed an open letter through my office calling on the government to commit to funding, and that number is growing by the day. The New South Wales and Victorian state governments have shown their interest in making the hospital a reality and I’m calling on federal government to do the same.
If we had a world-class hospital in Albury-Wodonga people needing medical treatment wouldn’t be separated from their families, alone in hospital in Melbourne. They wouldn’t experience delays in really high technical treatment. In fact they wouldn’t avoid treatment altogether, which some people do. They choose not to be treated rather than have to go to Melbourne. Little babies could be looked after in a neonatal intensive care unit close to home. Specialist appointments wouldn’t take a 3½ hour drive each way. Ongoing treatments wouldn’t mean moving away from family supports and comforts. That’s what regional Australians truly deserve.
I have been meeting with doctors David Clancy, Barbara Robertson and Phillip Steele from the Border Medical Association who share my vision for a state-of-the-art hospital on the border. The Border Medical Association is a non-political group which represents a large group of doctors based around Albury-Wodonga who I know are passionate about securing this new hospital. The Border Medical Association recently had this to say:
‘The current health service is struggling to keep up with the demand and maintain safety in two small hospitals separated by the Murray River. The infrastructure in these hospitals is obsolete, overrun and no longer fit for purpose. The duplication of hospital services and stretching of resources leads to harm for patients on both sides of the border. It leads to inordinate waste. We cannot provide a high quality service for our community, which stretch from Mansfield to Hay. With the parlous state of our hospitals our community knows this and they need to see meaningful change. This need should have been resolved much earlier—before we reached this critical juncture. The urgency now means that the federal government needs to support and facilitate the states making this a reality.’
I have also had many constituents contact my office to tell me what a hospital on the border would mean for them. Here is what one constituent had to say:
‘This would be a game changer for us in the regions. No more trips to the Royal Melbourne. They’re fantastic there but the travel, the traffic, the parking and the trauma when you have a chronic health condition—the benefits of a new hospital would be immeasurable.’
‘My mother is 93. We need to ensure prompt access to medical attention for her. In 2019 she needed a pacemaker and received excellent care but then had to be transferred to Melbourne. With the pressure of the pandemic and growing population on the border we need to increase our capacity to ensure all patients like her are able to receive prompt, effective patient-focused care.’
Or this constituent:
‘In the past 10 years my wife has had two life-threatening incidents requiring hospitalisation in Melbourne intensive care units. The health care was amazing but it was so difficult for our family to be near her at that time. It would be so much better if there was a world-class hospital on the border.’
Just recently, I met a man in Wodonga who suffers from congenital heart disease, obviously since he was born. He has a small young family and has his own business. He loses a day of work every time he has to travel to Melbourne for treatment. He asked his specialist if he could be treated in Albury and he said, ‘I’m sorry; they simply don’t have the facilities’.
Now is the time for the federal government to step up and commit to funding a world-class hospital on the border.