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Senior doctor blasts WA Health bosses as ‘complicit’ in downgrading services at Margaret River Hospital

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Dr Cathy Milligan has spoken out about declining services at Margaret River Hospital.
Camera IconDr Cathy Milligan has spoken out about declining services at Margaret River Hospital. Credit: Supplied

Margaret River Hospital veteran practitioner Dr Cathy Milligan has blasted health bosses and the State Government for allowing local services to deteriorate.

Her comments come amid concerns for the future of maternity services in Margaret River after a cohort of local GPs called for the WA Country Health Service to cease offering elective births at the hospital because of safety and legal concerns.

While those GPs have demanded the closure of maternity services until more GP obstetricians can be hired as backup for emergencies, the medical community is also worried about losing the service altogether.

Those concerns follow years of doctors airing gripes about a general “dumbing-down” of capacity at the hospital, with more patients required to travel north for surgery or transferred by overworked St John WA volunteers.

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Dr Milligan defended the skill and dedication of the existing Midwifery Group Practice model at the hospital, but the Margaret River Surgery co-owner shared concerns about losing maternity services.

She pointed squarely at a health system failing to consider the under-pressure needs of growing regional townships such as Margaret River.

“WACHS, in combination with (WA Government) Treasury, have been complicit in allowing the service at Margaret River Hospital to (decline),” Dr Milligan said.

“The trajectory of decline has been overseen by the Labor Government since 2017.

“The new Busselton Health Campus was commissioned in 2015, with more women electing a delivery option there, with broader services available.

“Despite repeated petitioning for improvements for infrastructure at MRH, the political attention has been consistently diverted to higher profile issues, including more recently the women’s hospital (in Perth).”

Liberal Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the key to addressing doctors’ concerns about services was to fund the long-delayed expansion of the hospital campus.

“The master plan, identified as a priority by WACHS, has so far been ignored by this Government despite pleas from local medical practitioners,” Ms Mettam said.

“This is understandably also causing angst for the local community who expect to have a regional hospital that serves the needs of a rapidly growing community.

“The Cook Labor Government needs to stop dragging its feet and fund this project as a matter of urgency to ensure the adequate delivery of services into the region.”

Local doctors who asked not to be named said they held genuine concerns no moves would be forthcoming on the hospital expansion within any reasonable time frame.

One senior GP told the Times it was understood the master plan would not receive any real consideration until funding was attached.

Doctors believed WACHS had to push harder for the business case, the GP said.

“Even once the funding comes through, as we’ve seen with the slow motion at Bunbury (Regional) Hospital, it takes years to build up the components for expanding the health campus and planning for disruptions,” they said.

“We’re genuinely worried we won’t see action within the next 10 years, let alone a finished, upgraded hospital.”

While WACHS figures showed only a small uptick in presentations, the Times has reported population growth and recruitment issues have led to a blow-out in wait times to see private GPs, heaping pressure on the hospital’s emergency department.

In September, WACHS board chair Dr Neale Fong wrote to local doctors reassuring them the master plan remained a priority project.

Dr Fong said there was no indication of when that allocation might occur, but the case was part of a wider review of “Statewide infrastructure priorities” slated for this financial year.

Dr Milligan said an upgraded campus would easily attract medical professionals to staff all services available, including obstetrics.

A WACHS spokesperson said the redevelopment remained a priority, “noting that any redevelopment would be subject to relevant Government approvals”.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson declined to comment.

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