Statements on reports: Family and Community Development Committee -perinatal services

It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on behalf of the committee of which I was a member that tabled its report today on the inquiry into perinatal services. I would like to begin by thanking the member in the upper house for commissioning the inquiry. I took great pleasure in being part of it, having been in the health sector for some 30 years. It was quite an enjoyable experience for me, because I have a decent understanding of the system that we were looking at.

We have made some very impressive recommendations that will make some significant changes, but I would like to begin by saying that I do think that what we found was we have a good system that we can always improve — that is an overarching good finding. Whilst that was mainly a good thing to have found, we also found something that I think is quite impressive as well. When we set up our perinatal health system nearly a century ago, we were very focused on a medical model. Over time the medical model that we set up has been working very, very well, but at the particular time that we identified that we need women to give birth in a safe medical environment, what we had was a family structure and a social structure in society, where the village and the surrounding community assisted with birthing processes and supporting mums and families during that early infancy stage of the family itself.

Over that time we have found a good medical system, but what we have probably lost is the fact that we have not recognised the change that has happened in families. Whilst we do not now just have extended families — we have got distance, we have got changes in family dynamics; it is all very new — we have probably not put the social and emotional wellbeing support around families, and that is something that we really found to be lacking in the system we now have.

I want to thank the people who came, particularly those from Warrnambool when the committee conducted a hearing in the Warrnambool area. I want to thank the following people for their contributions: Dr Liz Uren, Ms Rachael Lee, Ms Julianne Clift, Mr Nicholas Place, Ms Barbara Glare, Ms Maryanne Purcell, Ms Kerrie Donlon, Ms Melissa Maher, Ms Jess Stretton, Ms Jane Perry, Ms Alexandra Lenehan, Ms Wren Bowie and, last but not least, Ms Janene Facey. I have actually worked with many of these people over the years, in fact the majority of them. They took timeout of from their very busy days. People in the health sector are very outcome focused and very client focused, and for them to give up their time really does need to be recognised.

One of the things that they noted — other than some of the recommendations that I will hopefully talk about at a later time — was that the Department of Health and Human Services could do a better job to work with services to streamline and see far less waste in the system. This is epitomised by the $10 million that was recently given to the Geelong region to do a study on population needs and to see if more beds were needed for perinatal care. Surely we have known for a very long time that the population of Geelong, the western suburbs and the western part of Melbourne is growing, so it should be a business-as-usual approach in that the Department of Health and Human Services understands those growing needs and prepares for that demand by having the right amount of beds. I felt it was a real disgrace and a waste of taxpayers money to put up the $10 million. Obviously it is important that we fund these studies, but I felt it was wrong to make a big political stunt out of it when it actually should be business as usual.

That is what I heard from the likes of Dr Liz Uren, who said, ‘Look, we’re running really efficient systems out there, doing the best we can do, but there are disconnects in the technologies that we use’. Some are still using snail mail to communicate; some are using systems that do not talk to each other from ward to ward or from ward to specialist. Whilst there are some great recommendations that I am proud of, some of the recommendations will make quite a difference into the future. we need to support families, so let us start with the department and efficiencies that can be found.