An aging population is the catch cry being used by Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) to explain the structure of services at Milton Hospital.
In a sit-down with the Times ISLHD chief executive Margot Mains insisted that services at the hospital are being tailored to align with the needs of the community.
“It is an ageing population and we are allocating resources that best service their needs,” Ms Mains said.
ISLHD have recently assigned $4.6 million for a Renal and Palliative Care Unit, along with expansions to the Milton Day Unit and Cancer Care Centre.
Ms Mains believes these new services will “help meet the growing demand for these services locally and enhance access to this type of care closer to home.”
However, the decision to maintain the hospital’s maternity services at a delineation level 2 as imposed in 2013 is one Ms Mains stands by, confirming it is not set to change.
“To increase the capabilities of Milton Hospital we would need to see lots of reskilling, upskilling and a number of risks fixed. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Ms Mains said.
However, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner maintains that safety is the primary reason for the reduction in services with funding playing no part.
“This is not a funding issue. Milton Hospital’s expense budget increased by 2.1 per cent between 2014-15 and 2015-16,” Ms Skinner told Fairfax Media.
From July 1 there will be no births at Milton Hospital, other than emergency deliveries.
This follows the withdrawal of services of all four doctors practicing obstetrics and will remain in place as the community awaits new doctors to fill the now vacant positions.
Once these positions are filled, an escalation of care referral model will be put into place for maternity and obstetric care across the Illawarra Shoalhaven district.
As a delineation level 2 service, Milton Hospital will care for normal-risk deliveries only and be able to cope with sudden unexpected complications until transfer.
As a delineation level 4, moderate risk births and elective caesarean sections will be delivered at Shoalhaven Hospital.
As a delineation level 5, Wollongong Hospital will deliver selected high risk births.
Deliveries needing further specialist treatment will be managed in Sydney.
“I want to reassure the community that any decision we make about services is not taken lightly,” Ms Mains said.
“The tendency was once that when you close a service, you close it. We don’t work that way now.
“We have the ability to review services and align them with the needs of the community, as we have done.
“If the population age shifts and there is an increase in births, of course we will look at how we can provide these services closer to home.
“At present there is not enough births for the clinicians to maintain their skills.”
Ante-natal and post-natal services will remain available at Milton Hospital.
Expectant mothers will be able to meet with specialists and midwives at a weekly clinic at Milton Hospital.
New mother’s will be able to transfer to Milton Hospital for post-natal care.
Shelley Hancock MP has declined to comment on the situation despite repeated attempts by the Times to contact her.
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