AN Opposition MP has vented frustration over further delays to the more than $40 million upgrade of Northam Hospital and accused the State Government of a lack of urgency over health services in rural areas.
Agricultural MLC Darren West said Health Minister John Day last week confirmed the project would not be completed in 2018 and the much-needed dialysis service delayed until 2019.
“No reason has been given for these delays. This important upgrade was first announced in July 2011 and our community has waited long enough,” he said.
Mr West said his parliamentary question also revealed no plans to reinstate maternity services that were closed two years ago.
“My son was born in Northam, as were thousands of other babies locally for over a century, and it saddens me the State Government has allowed this vital service to close,” he said.
Construction on the hospital was due to start in mid-2016 and take two years to complete, according to Heath Department website getthebiggerpicture.health.wa.gov.au.
WA Country Health Service Wheatbelt acting regional director Sean Conlan confirmed the delay was not due to changes to the scope of the hospital upgrade.
“The tender for the Northam Hospital redevelopment is currently out to the market and is expected to be awarded in November 2016, and construction is scheduled to commence in December 2016,” he said.
Mr Conlan also confirmed the new renal dialysis unit would not open until early in 2019.
He said WA Country Health Service (WACHS) was, “fully committed to providing accessibility to safe sustainable birthing options for the Northam District.”
“Dr Colin Smyth ceased practising obstetrics at Northam Hospital after 30 years of dedicated service to Northam and the surrounding districts and his contribution to the local community was greatly appreciated,” he said.
“WACHS has been actively pursuing recruitment strategies for GP obstetricians in the Northam district.
“To date, these efforts have been unsuccessful.”
High-risk maternity patients are referred to King Edward Memorial Hospital and low-risk obstetric patients to Midland and other metropolitan hospitals.
“An obstetric doctor from the Midland Public Hospital has commenced monthly outpatient obstetric services at the Northam Hospital,” he said.
“He is providing clinical care to medium and high risk patients booked to birth at Midland.”
Community midwifery antenatal and postnatal services are available in Northam supported by the Midland delivery service.
Mr Conlan said the program started early last year had been successful.
“These midwives work collaboratively with local GPs and metropolitan birthing hospitals to provide high quality, safe antenatal care, education and post- delivery care closer to home.”
Upgraded service plans for the country hospital provide for an expanded chemotherapy, emergency department and operating theatres.
Mr Conlan called on local subcontractors and suppliers to register interest in tender documents for the hospital upgrade designed to boost the local economy.
Former Health Minister Kim Hames previously said the modernised hospital would offer one point of patient access to health services including physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, counselling, community health nursing, community mental health and aged-care support.
Central Wheatbelt MLA Mia Davies said the community needed an obstetrics service.
“I remain concerned that mums are unable to deliver their babies at the Northam Hospital and have been advocating on behalf of the community for these services to be reinstated,” she said.
“I understand there is currently a slight delay in the program to redevelop the Northam Hospital, however the end result will significantly improve the services available in the region, something that is only possible because of Royalties for Regions funding.”
The Government expects the hospital building project to support at least 400 jobs.