Drop health merger plan: Lovell

June 15, 2024 BY

Emergency: Liberal MP for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said forced amalgamations of health services would be a loss for rural and regional areas. Photo: FILE

LIBERAL Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell has called on the State Government to abandon its plan to amalgamate Victorian health services.

Speaking in parliament, Ms Lovell said the merger proposal would have “negative consequences” for smaller rural and regional health services and called on Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas to scrap the idea.

Victorian Healthcare Association chief executive officer Leigh Clarke also has called for clarity on any reforms sooner rather than later.

“The Labor government has completely mismanaged the finances of Victoria, and now they are desperately trying to save money in the short-term by forcing through hospital mergers that will end up hurting Victorians in the long-term,” Ms Lovell said.

“Rural voices deserve to be heard in rural health care. The minister must abandon Labor’s disastrous plan to amalgamate Victorian health services that would remove local oversight and management of health services.”

Fears of forced amalgamations surfaced recently over a review by health economist Dr Stephen Duckett of the results of four mergers that created Grampians Health in late 2021.

The unrest also follows a warning by Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas that hospitals would not be given extra money if they exceeded their budgets in 2024-25.

The government has since stressed that no decisions on mergers or otherwise have yet been made, but further comment was not available yesterday.

But Ms Lovell said it was thought the government was actually planning to force hospitals to merge as a cost-saving tactic, reducing the number of health agencies across the state from the existing 76 to just 12 – six regional and six metropolitan.

She said if that happened, smaller rural health services would lose local oversight and control to larger central hospitals.

“The loss of local management could result in frontline care in smaller towns being cut back, opening hours reduced, services centralised in larger hospitals, and rural residents having to drive long distances for treatments that they used to get closer to home,” she said.

“If large-scale reform of the Victorian health system is to take place, it must happen after thorough consultation with communities and through investment in services, infrastructure, new technology and training more health workers, not by forcing hospitals into cost-cutting and chasing impossible efficiencies.”