Labor calls for immediate action to combat 'health crisis' in south west Sydney

Rebecca Winters hopes the government will inject more funding in the South West Sydney Local Health District. Picture: Chris Lane
Rebecca Winters hopes the government will inject more funding in the South West Sydney Local Health District. Picture: Chris Lane

Rebecca Winters knows just how heartbreaking it can be to seek specialist medical care in south west Sydney.

The Appin mother of four has battled to have her children, all of whom have intellectual or developmental disabilities, seen by medical specialists.

All of her children required surgery on their tonsils and adenoids and were only able to get the surgery after Macarthur MP Dr Mike Freelander stepped in to help.

Mrs Winters said it was unfair that parents in Macarthur and other areas of south west Sydney were forced to either travel enormous distances or pay exorbitant fees to be treated locally.

"The wait time to get any appointments out here is ridiculous," she said.

"Dr Freelander helped to set up surgery for my daughter to have ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgery so that happened pretty quickly but with my son my GP lodged the application to have the surgery done at Westmead Hospital through Medicare and they kept rejecting us.

"My GP said we could try private but there was just no way that I could afford it.

"I then waited three months for an appointment at Liverpool Hospital in March 2019 and he only just had the surgery done four weeks ago.

"He even had trouble breathing while he was asleep - but there is just nothing here.

"Look at all this stuff they are building at Campbelltown Hospital and you can't even get the help you need.

"My son broke his finger and we had to go all the way to Fairfield for surgery because there was no surgeon available here."

Mrs Winters said every experience she had had with medical services in Macarthur had resulted in lengthy waiting times.

"These hospitals are understaffed," she said.

"There should be specialists available for everything - we shouldn't have to go to Liverpool or Westmead for help."

Mrs Winters said her children varied in age from 13 to eight years old but access to medical care had not gotten better since her eldest was born.

"It has gotten worse," she said.

"More staff and more services are needed and the government needs to make healthcare more financially accessible.

"How many people are going to avoid coming to Campbelltown Hospital once they have to pay for parking here?

"I get that they have to make money somehow but if you are sitting in emergency for four or five hours it becomes too much.

"I should be able to come to Campbelltown Hospital with my son who is having a bleed after surgery, not have to drive all the way to Liverpool to be seen because that is where the surgeons are."

Macquarie Fields MP Anoulack Chanthivong, Labor Leader Jodi McKay, Campbelltown MP Greg Warren, Macarthur MP Dr Mike Freelander and opposition spokesman for health Ryan Park at Campbelltown Hospital's clinical school. Picture: Chris Lane

Macquarie Fields MP Anoulack Chanthivong, Labor Leader Jodi McKay, Campbelltown MP Greg Warren, Macarthur MP Dr Mike Freelander and opposition spokesman for health Ryan Park at Campbelltown Hospital's clinical school. Picture: Chris Lane

South West doctors are "not catastrophisers" says MP

Labor politicians, including Dr Freelander, gathered at Campbelltown Hospital today to speak out against the "systemic healthcare crisis" in south west Sydney.

Dr Freelander said the lack of equity health care in outer metro and regional areas, like Macarthur, was disgraceful.

"There is abundant evidence in health outcomes, [such as] lower birth weights in children, higher instances of diabetes, higher instances of cardiac disease, higher incidents of lung cancer and bowel cancer compared to the inner city, north shore and eastern suburbs - yet we get chronically under-funded," he said.

"People can't get access to specialist care, waiting times are far longer than in the inner city - people just can't get equitable care and it is wrong.

"It's okay to build buildings but you have to staff them properly and you've got to provide the services."

Doctors who provided evidence at the recent parliamentary inquiry into the South West Sydney Health District agreed that south western Sydney residents were being treated as "second class citizens".

"These doctors are not catastrophisers - these are people that are faced with these issues everyday in emergency, outpatient care and to try and get specialists to see someone," Dr Freelander said.

"To us the people of western Sydney are first class citizens who deserve first class care."

The recent parliamentary inquiry revealed that Camden, Campbelltown, Liverpool and Fairfield hospitals were struggling to provide adequate care to the region's growing population.

The inquiry was told that south west Sydney has the highest emergency department presentations of any local health district, yet the lowest number of specialists.

It was also revealed that south west Sydney is the second most populous local health district yet has the lowest annualised budget, and it has the highest population growth rate and birth-rate but lowest number of GPs per population.

Labor leader Jodi McKay, Rebecca Winters and her son with Macarthur MP Dr Mike Freelander. Picture: Chris Lane

Labor leader Jodi McKay, Rebecca Winters and her son with Macarthur MP Dr Mike Freelander. Picture: Chris Lane

The inquiry was told that the health district had the highest social economic disadvantage scores, yet lowest access to public and private hospital beds and that the district had the most mental health patients in emergency for over 24 hours, yet very low access to community health services.

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said the findings from the inquiry were unacceptable.

"It's one thing to hear from the doctors at the inquiry but another thing to actually hear about the situation from real people," she said.

"The issue for us is the utter inequitable situation that exists here versus other health districts both in terms of waiting times, on the services available, on the level of staff and the funding that is available.

"The parliamentary inquiry clearly showed that the system here is failing - I think they said it was "catastrophic" which is extraordinary language."

The opposition spokesman for health Ryan Park said access to healthcare was a growing problem in south west Sydney.

"No matter what health outcomes you look at, the people in south west and western Sydney are worse off," he said.

"We've got a government in NSW who want to out tens of thousands of people into south western Sydney but not adequately delivering on the most important service that government delivers - and that's health services.

"We need to see increased funds. It's one thing to build buildings but it's another thing to adequately staff them."

Campbelltown MP Greg Warren echoed Mr Park's sentiments.

"There's two pieces of information that I get about local hospitals - and that is that the staff are fantastic but they are just not resourced enough," he said.

"The inquiry has exposed the daily reality and daily struggle of hospital patients in south west Sydney and that is a direct correlation of inadequate funding."

Macquarie Fields MP Anoulack Chanthivong said south west Sydney residents just wanted their fair share of funding.

"We have tens of thousands of people moving in yet we don't get the same levels of funding and investment in public health as other districts," he said.

"It's just unfair and unacceptable."

The South Western Sydney Local Health District actively participated in the inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the health district said the 2019-20 budget alone for the district was almost $2 billion, "an increase of nearly $94 million on the previous financial year's budget".

"This is the largest budget of any metropolitan health district in NSW," she said.

"With almost $3 billion committed to hospital redevelopments, South Western Sydney Local Health District is extremely well positioned to meet the healthcare needs of the growing community.

"This investment includes, $740 million for the new Liverpool Health and Academic Precinct (LHAP) plus $50 million for a new carpark at the precinct, $1.3 billion for a new Bankstown Hospital, $632 million for the Campbelltown Hospital and $68.7 million for stage one of the Bowral Hospital.

"In addition, the district will benefit from the NSW Government's $2.8 billion commitment to recruit a record 8300 frontline health staff over the next term, including 5000 additional nurses and midwives."

This story Macarthur mum speaks out about south west Sydney 'health crisis' first appeared on Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser.