Community health fears

THE Cohuna community fears that the recent obstetrics decision - since reversed - is the beginning of the demise of their hospital.

The Minister for Health, Jill Hennessey has been asked to make a commitment that Cohuna District Hospital will remain as a stand-alone hospital, including retaining midwifery services. 

The Leader of The Nationals and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh raised the issue in State Parliament following the recent decision taken without consultation to bypass all midwifery services from the hospital, effective immediately, with almost 50 pregnant women subsequently informed that they would be required to give birth at Echuca Regional Health or another hospital, most likely at Bendigo or Swan Hill.

Mr Walsh told Parliament that although the decision was subsequently reversed it caused enormous duress to the women booked in to have their babies delivered in Cohuna, and it totally rocked the hospital staff and community.

He said that one of the challenges for Cohuna District Hospital was that the previous chief executive officer left 18 months ago and the hospital is now under the shared governance of the chief executive officer and senior staff members of Echuca Regional Health.

"There is a clear perception in the Cohuna community that their hospital is effectively being taken over by Echuca by stealth," he said.

"That perception was certainly accentuated by the recent debacle involving the bypass of midwifery services from Cohuna to Echuca."

Mr Walsh said that he had attended the Cohuna District Hospital annual general meeting on November 9, which reported on the future service plan and master plan.

"There was no discussion whatsoever about an imminent decision regarding the suspension of midwifery services at the hospital," he said.

"Just one week later, Dr (Peter) Barker, who has been a fantastic servant of the Cohuna hospital for many years, was told without consultation that the hospital midwifery service was going on to permanent bypass to Echuca.

"In support of Dr Barker and the hospital the community of Cohuna protested very strongly about the injustice of this decision; a protest so passionate that Dr Barker and his staff withdrew all of their services effective immediately and placed the hospital on bypass.

"Four hours later they were notified that all services were back up and running, including midwifery."

Mr Walsh said that this was a great result, but the Cohuna community fear that this is not the end, but merely the beginning of the demise of their hospital.

He has asked the Minister to give the Cohuna community a reasoned explanation of what had taken place and an unqualified commitment that Cohuna hospital will be supported to remain as a stand-alone health service including midwifery services.

Ms Hennessey is yet to reply to Mr Walsh's request.

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