Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (19:44): Accessing health and mental health services can often be challenging in regional and rural areas like those in the Gilmore electorate. Services can sometimes be hours away, often requiring overnight stays, travel costs and time away from loved ones. One thing I always hear from locals is praise for the hardworking doctors, nurses, paramedics and health workers, who are there every day caring for our community and going above and beyond to help those who are in need. I thank them for everything they do today and every day, and I hear that echoed in the voices of those I speak with.
But I am regularly hearing from local people who are suffering because of the state of our local healthcare system. Only this week, I was contacted by a gentleman who wanted to tell me his story, not because it would help him but because he thought it would help others. He waited over a year for an appointment at Shoalhaven Hospital to have some very important tests. It caused a great deal of distress to him and his family. He was then given a referral to the hospital's gastroenterology clinic. However, with only one gastroenterologist he was told he would need to wait until late 2020 just to get an appointment. He has now been forced to travel to Wollongong for this important appointment, costing money to travel and taking more time away from his family.
Tina also contacted me this week to tell me her daughter's story. Last week Tina's daughter presented to Shoalhaven Hospital's emergency department with a bleeding bowel. She was bringing up blood and in a terrible situation. Tina told my office how her daughter had to wait for over 24 hours, lying on a bench in the ED, before a bed could be found. They were also told that for at least a week there was no available theatre time for the procedure Tina's daughter needed. Tina had nothing but praise for the wonderful staff who cared for her and her daughter.
But these delays are unacceptable. Shoalhaven Hospital is known to often be in 'bed block', with ambulances backed up and unable to transfer patients, because there are simply not enough beds. According to an article in the South Coast Register, Shoalhaven Hospital ED has the second-worst delays in New South Wales. Patients are being transported to Shellharbour Hospital to cope with increasing patient numbers and bed shortages. Patients who needed treatment within 10 minutes—people with imminently life-threatening conditions—waited over 52 minutes for treatment.
I know that the lack of acute mental health services in Shoalhaven hospital is impacting on wait times and 'bed block'. That is why during the election Labor committed $35 million in federal funding for an acute mental health facility at the hospital as part of its redevelopment. Bed shortages often forced people with severe mental health conditions to travel to Shellharbour or Wollongong for care, or miss out altogether. It is essential that hospital infrastructure targeting mental health services is strengthened and I urge the minister to work with the New South Wales government to match my commitment and deliver this facility.
Shoalhaven Hospital is not alone. Ask the people of Milton about the need for more funding for their local hospital. The birthing centre in Milton Ulladulla Hospital has been closed down, forcing expectant mums and families the travel long distances on the notorious Princes Highway to the hospital at Nowra or Moruya. The community would also dearly benefit from a CT scanner but, again, the lack of funding is an issue. In Eurobodalla two-thirds of patients are forced to travel outside of the area. This has real impacts on local people. This means time away from their families and support networks. It means travel and accommodation costs. It means time on the road instead of time in recovery. During the election, Labor committed $25 million to the new Eurobodalla Hospital, because we want to make sure that mental health facilities are included in the planned new hospital. Again, I call on the government to match this commitment.
I have invited the minister to work with me to improve health services for the people of the New South Wales South Coast and Far South Coast. We deserve to have the same quality services that those in Sydney and Canberra have. I look forward to working with Minister Hunt and the government on these and many other important local projects.