Matters of Public Importance (MPI): I am pleased to have the opportunity on this matter of public importance to speak on health issues, and while we hear so many on this side mourning the fact that they have been unable to secure the sort of funding they might like for hospitals and health services, I can truly say that the Shepparton electorate has had a windfall when it comes to health investment across the last eight years, and I put that down to there certainly having been an established need in the community, but I also put it down to the power of a community having an independent representing it. We are currently looking at the situation in the seat of Nicholls, the federal seat, where we have a strong independent standing there. And aren’t the parties anxious about that? This is an opportunity to for the first time in Victoria’s history have an independent at the state and the federal level working together at both levels to achieve outcomes for our community. How outstanding that would be. But the vitriol, the advertising, the misinformation that circulates around our social media outlets and around the polling booths now in relation to the risks of having an independent is extraordinary.
I say that I have been a champion for independents because I have worked with the government of the day to highlight the issues in my electorate and to get some investment into what had been for so long neglected. If ever a community had been put on the drip-feed, it was the Shepparton electorate. And we did have a hospital; we had a hospital, but every little bit of it just came in dribs and drabs over a very long period of time, and it was not good enough. We are a major regional area. Our health service is one of the major regional providers, and to get the investment that we needed was critical. So in the first eight years—in these eight years; we are in our eighth year—I am pleased to say that we got the $230 million investment for the first stage of Goulburn Valley Health, and that is just an amazing refurb. There is a five-storey building with new surgical wards, with new medical wards and with operating theatres, and there are refurbs of midwifery, a new paediatric ward, a new special care nursery and a new emergency department. All these things were so needed, and it is a credit to our community that they were able to get behind me and come together as a community to highlight the needs. There are many other things that I could talk about that we have been lucky to receive, but I will save that for a budget reply speech.
Here, just to talk about health, I have to say it has been an incredibly pleasing time, and just in this year’s budget we have received more than $163 million to build a new purpose-built mental health facility, which will add 15 beds to what we already have and take us to about 35 mental health beds for the whole of our region.
It needs to be remembered that Goulburn Valley Health not only services that part of northern Victoria that we call the Goulburn Valley but also extends up into New South Wales. Deniliquin, for instance, has had all its maternity services—obstetrics and gynaecology—closed down, so people from there have to come either to Echuca or onto Shepparton to get the services they need. We know for a fact that so many services are under pressure, but in addition to the mental health service there is funding there for what might go in it, and that is the mental health and alcohol and drug hubs, also announced in this year’s budget for our community and something that is just so greatly needed. We also finally received the $25 million which will build us an early parenting centre. For those who have heard me talk about the mother-baby unit that we have needed for our region for a very long time—I have only been talking about it for eight years, but so many in our community, especially in our medical and nursing community, have advocated for this for so long—this will be a 10-bed unit that will service parents of young children between zero and four. There will be so many services that can be provided out of that. Certainly my vision for it is for it to be in the heart of the Shepparton CBD area near the Hunter building, which has all our community care services associated with it. It is just an extraordinary situation that we have received this funding and also a credit to the Goulburn Valley Health Foundation, which has stood beside everyone advocating for this year after year. The government has listened to our concerns that I have raised on behalf of the Shepparton community.
But there is no doubt that we have a health crisis, and I do find it extraordinary to hear that COVID may have nothing to do with it. Just today in question time I pointed out that we have an average of about 11 000 cases reported. God knows how many there really are. People say you should triple that figure. There are 500 people in hospital—it has been on a trajectory going up—and between 70 and 100 Victorians dying each week. These are extraordinary numbers, and they are so reflected in our health services and their capacity to provide what is needed in our hospitals and in our health services. The stress and trauma that that is putting on our health service workers is undoubted. I think anyone who works with people in the system and talks to doctors and nurses knows the stress and the difficulty they are under.
Of course we have that confirmed by our administrators in the hospital system. Just this morning as I was driving to work I heard the chair of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine talking about the crisis in regional areas, where there are people waiting for transfers into metropolitan hospitals with conditions that cannot be treated in their own region. They might need an angiogram, they might have sepsis, they might have really severe conditions where they are waiting, waiting to be transferred to a major metropolitan hospital. We know that the burden of ill health has become so much greater during COVID—not just with COVID cases, but what has really transpired has also been a neglect by people of their health during the past two years, and that is adding to the burden in a really significant way.
The New South Wales upper house has just in recent days tabled a report into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote parts of the state, and a senate inquiry is also looking into the provision of services in regional areas. It is a crisis. It has been an issue for a long time, because the one factor that we have faced for many years is the issue of recruitment of professionals to service our rural communities. Just presently at Goulburn Valley Health we are short of 80 doctors, 60 nurses and many other allied health professionals. So while it has been fantastic to get the investment in infrastructure in our community, there are a lot of other issues that do need to be addressed, and for us it is so much about the location of doctors—where they are best to be—and most of them want to be in the city.
It is very hard to attract professional doctors and a range of others to come out into regional areas, and something has got to be done about that. We have seen the federal government trying to address it by having medical schools in regional centres on the basis that if you train them there they might stay, but the figures are so low. There is no way that is going to solve the problem. It just might help a little bit. So there has to be some serious thinking about it, and I want to call on all sides in this house to agree to and commit to at the forthcoming election a full inquiry into health services in regional and rural areas in Victoria. We have seen it done in New South Wales with a recent report. The Senate are doing it. Victoria needs to do it so that we have that overall view and really clear picture of what the issues are, what is needed, but more than that: how did we get to this and how can we address it? It really does need to be about solutions. I think that is a critical pathway now that we need to go on, because we are in a time where we are going to have the burden of COVID with us for a very long time, and that is going to be really putting a lot more pressure on every health service across the state.
We know that aged care is provided throughout a lot of our health facilities in regional areas and that the pressure they will be put under will be even greater than it has been. We are seeing such a change in the language at the moment around COVID and the impact of that, but we do need to maintain full transparency about every aspect of it—about the numbers, about what it is doing to our health services, how it impacts and what, maybe, we can do about it. Does there need to be more done? So I— (Time expired)