It is now a week since the public meeting at Yorketown Town Hall where over 600 people gathered in response to Country Health SA proposing to cease surgical services at Yorketown Hospital.
This loss of services was to occur from 1 April but, thankfully, there has been a stay of the transfer of the services to Wallaroo – and hopefully this stay can become a permanent one as a result of community efforts to highlight the impacts of such a decision.
I am so proud of southern YP for turning out in such a large number on Thursday night (20th April), with the 607 people there exceeding my expectations. The turnout demonstrates the passion that exists in the community for supporting the Yorketown Hospital.
The challenge now is to make sure the political class understand how supportive we are for the hospital, and that the Health SA administration respect that our community will not accept being treated as second-class citizens. This previous “decide and defend” mentality, in which no community consultation happened, was just disgraceful.
We collected about 500 petition signatures on the night but it was just the beginning. Since then a Stansbury resident has collected nearly 150 signatures off his own feet, and more sheets continue to be handed into us (or posted) at the Goyder electorate office at Maitland.
Many people took a handful of blank sheets away with them at the public meeting so I expect we will receive many more by the deadline of Friday, 26th May. This will then enable me to table the petition in Parliament on Tuesday, 30th May, which may well, by then, contain thousands of signatures.
Since the meeting, the community has been submitting written statements and questions to Health SA and Minister Snelling for which I applaud and commend their authors. In addition, all submissions and comments made to me directly I am forwarding to the Minister to ensure he is made fully aware of the implications of the loss of services at Yorketown – and, indeed, what the spin-off effects of such decisions and loss of services are in all smaller, rural communities across regional SA.
With the last 45 minutes of the public meeting devoted to questions/answers and statements, I have set out ensuring that all these recorded statements are also provided to the Minister. While we finished the meeting after a bit over two hours, I know that many more in the crowd wanted the chance to say something, so I urge people to use emails and letters in making the decision-makers understand that a reduction in services cannot happen.
At a political level, I was so pleased with the contributions made by my colleagues, State Liberal Shadow Minister Stephen Wade MLC and the Federal Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey MP. Stephen, the person I hope will be the Minister for Health from March 2018, has committed funding to upgrade the surgery, and the policy proposal by Rowan to ensure regional hospitals are supported by graduate doctors must be explored further. This work gives hope to not just us, but many other regional communities that are crying out for medical skills.
On the Thursday night, and since, I have read of people making calls for local fundraising to pay for the surgery upgrades. At the public meeting my response to this suggestion is that our community pays a lot of money in tax and I firmly believe that our share of taxes being spent locally needs to increase and that locals should not have to pay for what is a State Government responsibility.
I commend the work done by decades of volunteers in the Friends of the Yorketown Hospital, and every year the money they raise is used to purchase equipment; just as I say a sincere thank you to the individuals and families who make bequests to the hospital (I believe that the YP Health Advisory Council has $125,000 in bequests invested) in recognition of how important the hospital is to them.
But the surgery upgrade is a State, not local, responsibility.
Additionally, I have lodged a Freedom of Information request for documents detailing all donations, bequests and locally raised funds since 2007, and where they have been spent, as part of an investigation into how the assets of Yorketown Hospital have been managed over the last 10 years by the Labor Government.
Issues raised at the meeting about local monies being lost concerned me and, to the credit of Roger Kirchner from Country Health SA who spoke at the meeting, he has contacted me since the meeting seeking to be involved in sorting this out.
So, where to now?
The community submissions are the start, the petition being presented in 4 weeks is important, but the solution is a political one.
With finances and policy, political parties need to provide the final outcome. I, and the Liberal Party, have started with the funding commitment.
Steven Griffiths MP
Guest speakers at the Yorketown public meeting on 20th April, from left: Yorketown GP Dr George Kokar, Federal Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey MP, Dr Peter Joyner SA Health Director Emergency Services, Roger Kirchner Director Country Health SA Yorke and Northern Region, Member for Goyder Steven Griffiths MP, Lyn Poole CEO Rural Doctors Workforce Agency, Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, Shadow Minister for Health Stephen Wade, and Yorke Peninsula Council Mayor Ray Agnew.