Adjournment: Portland District Health

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Health in the other place, and the action I seek is for her to review the classification of the urgent care centre at Portland District Health.

This is a situation that is disadvantaging people who live in the far south-west of the state and needs to be looked at as an effort to ensure country people are not compromised by bureaucratic decisions. Portland District Health’s accident and emergency service is classified as an urgent care centre rather than an emergency department.

This change was made some time ago, but there have been unintended consequences of that decision that need to be rectified. My office has been contacted by a number of constituents who have presented at the urgent care centre in Portland, but because their condition required care that was beyond the clinical capabilities of the centre they had to be transferred to other facilities. Those people were then transferred to another hospital via road or air ambulance and later received large bills for their ambulance transport costs, some up to $8000 if being transferred by air.

This is because under the current model they could not be admitted to Portland District Health via urgent care, so their transport was not considered an interhospital transfer and the ambulance bill, if they do not have a membership or private health cover, is up to them to pay. This is no fault of the hospital staff, hardworking CEO Christine Giles or the board, who have already done some incredible work to lift the services offered at the hospital, and there is more in the pipeline; it is simply because they are being hampered by the classification of their service and what they can offer their patients.

These patients are doing the right thing presenting to their nearest hospital. In one case the person was having a stroke. Now, in that situation you want to get to the nearest hospital as quickly as you can—you are not going to say, ‘Well, Portland isn’t an emergency department; I’ll drive an extra hour to Hamilton or Warrnambool’, which are both classified as emergency departments. More than 8000 patients are cared for annually at the urgent care centre, a number comparable to the Warrnambool Base Hospital and more than Western District Health in Hamilton, which are both emergency departments.

Portland District Health services a population base of 19 700 within the Glenelg shire region and approximately 12 000 living in and immediately around Portland. This includes communities that are up to an hour’s drive from Portland and could be considered remote. It seems unreasonable that a hospital with such high levels of patient numbers and servicing a wide region that could be considered remote has no emergency department. So I ask the minister to review this classification to ensure people in Portland who need emergency care are not being disadvantaged by a decision made long in the past.