Repatriation General Hospital

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (11:32): I move:

That this house —

(a) recognises the extraordinary care provided to veterans and other South Australians by the Repatriation General Hospital at Daw Park over the past 75 years;

(b) notes the Labor government's promise to 'never, ever close the Repat';

(c) condemns the Weatherill Labor government for its plan to break its promise and close the hospital; and

(d) calls on the government to renew the Repatriation General Hospital as a health and medical precinct for veterans and residents of the southern suburbs.

To begin:

'The Repat', as it is affectionately known, remains a vital community asset and a valued symbol of past achievement.

Let me just say that again:

'The Repat', as it is affectionately known, remains a vital community asset and a valued symbol of past achievement.

They are not my own words, although they are words I do agree with. They are not the words of the Save the Repat Alliance or Professor Warren Jones, although I am sure they would also agree with that statement. They are not the words of more than 120,000 South Australian residents who have signed the petition opposing the closure of the Repat. These words are in fact posted on the state government's own SA Health website. Let me repeat:

'The Repat', as it is affectionately known, remains a vital community asset and a valued symbol of past achievement.

Never has a truer word been spoken. Let us be clear: the Weatherill Labor government itself acknowledges the uniqueness, symbolism and value of the Repatriation General Hospital to our state, yet despite this acknowledgement it continues to ignore the wishes of South Australians, ignore the wishes of southern Adelaide residents and ignore the wishes of healthcare professionals. Instead, the government is intent on ripping out the heart of the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network and continuing its plan to close the Repat. The SA Health website also notes, and I quote:

For more than seventy years the Repatriation General Hospital at Daw Park has delivered a very special kind of care to South Australian veterans and war widows.

It certainly has a very special place. Thousands upon thousands of South Australians from all walks of life are grateful for the treatment they have received at the Repat, including my own dad, who spent seven weeks in the Repat in the early 1970s as a young Army cadet. I am constantly reminded of the importance of the Repat to southern Adelaide residents, whether it is by phone calls, emails or letters to my office, or a street-corner meeting and at public events. I hear stories of the very special care the Repat has provided personally to a loved one or to a friend.

The clear message is that there is something incredibly special about the Repat, the people, the camaraderie and its culture. Its character and uniqueness are the sum of these parts, something that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else. As you break apart the Repat, moving each piece, shifting hospital wards to other facilities, carving out key clinical services and redistributing staff across the statewide hospital network, the removal of each piece will slowly erode the Repat's identity and, sadly, destroy the essence of what makes the Repat so special.

A letter was published in the compliments corner of the Southern Health News December 2016 edition. The author wanted to thank Ward 5 staff at the Repat for the wonderful care they provided to her father, her thanks extending not just to the medical staff but to the administrators and cleaners of the hospital as well, all of whom had demonstrated, to quote from that letter, 'empathy, respect and dignity', as well as a 'friendly attitude'.

Again, the Principal Community Visitor Annual Report, Mental Health Services 2015-16, noted that Ward 18 at the Repat 'was identified to have a model of best practice in place' in relation to treatment and care plans and that Ward 18 'demonstrated the ability to go above and beyond'. It should be noted that it was the only ward in South Australia to be singled out for praise by the Principal Community Visitor Annual Report in this regard. The compliments, recognition and appreciation for the Repat are endless.

The Southern Adelaide Local Health Network provides care for around 350,000 living in the southern metropolitan area, including those in my own electorate, as well as providing a number of statewide services and services to those in key regional areas. The key pillars of the network responsible for providing services within SALHN are the Flinders Medical Centre, Noarlunga Hospital and of course the Repat.

Closing the Repat and removing an entire hospital from the network will destabilise the very foundation of the health network in southern Adelaide. The impact of this closure will be felt far beyond our veterans; it will affect every South Australian, especially those in Adelaide's south. As SA Health's own website says, the Repat is a vital community asset; it plays a critical role in our state's health system.

There are approximately 170,000 visitations to the Repat each year. Specialist services are provided in urology, vascular surgery, respiratory medicine, cardiology, ophthalmology, diabetes and rheumatology, just to name a few. Each year, there around 2,000 transfers from the Flinders Medical Centre for overflow and convalescent patients, and it also provides more than 200 beds for general medicine, surgery, palliative care, mental health and rehabilitation services.

Closing the Repat will have a significant and longstanding impact on our community. It will be felt for generations, especially amongst our current armed forces personnel, who are our future veterans. Once these beds are removed, once the services are lost, they will never be regained. The closure of the Repat and the broader changes underway as part of Transforming Health have generated deep-seated community concern. What began as a ripple has fast become a tidal wave, as the full implications of Transforming Health are felt across our hospital network by South Australians not only in metropolitan Adelaide but in our regional areas as well.

The mayor of Onkaparinga council, Lorraine Rosenberg, wrote to me recently to voice her community's 'grave concerns about the impact of Transforming Health on their future access to hospital services'. The fast-growing southern region of Adelaide is worried: they are worried about access to essential health services, they are worried about the closure of Noarlunga Hospital's 29-bed medical ward, they are worried about the closure of Noarlunga's private hospital and they are worried about the severe downgrade of the Noarlunga Hospital emergency department.

They should be worried because closing the Repat will put more pressure on existing services at the Flinders Medical Centre and at Noarlunga, and reducing services at Noarlunga will drive more patients to Flinders. It will be a fast-gathering snowball, a snowball that is heading directly for the Flinders Medical Centre. People down south will be travelling further for medical treatment, they will be waiting longer, the staff will be under enormous pressure to meet the daily demand and good luck trying to find a car park at the Flinders Medical Centre.

On Tuesday 28 March, the Noarlunga Hospital ED was overcapacity for 12 hours straight, six straight hours of which were in Code White, which means that all treatment areas are occupied. For this entire 12-hour period, the Flinders Medical Centre ED was also overcapacity and in Code White for 11 hours straight. Unfortunately, this is the norm rather than the exception. During the 12-hour period from 1pm on Monday 27 March until 1am on Tuesday 28 March, Noarlunga Hospital's ED was also overcapacity for 12 hours straight, eight of which were Code White. Again, for this entire 12-hour period the Flinders ED was also overcapacity and in a Code White status for nine hours straight.

Right now, we have a health system that is clearly not working. What is the capacity of the system going to be to cope with the closure of the Repat? The access blocking occurring in the emergency departments at Noarlunga Hospital and Flinders is symptomatic of a network that is not coping with current demand. Transforming Health is simply not working. If all things are bad now, how much worse will they be, as I said before, when the Repat closes? It is not just immediate patient care and services that will suffer.

Opportunities will be lost, opportunities to maximise health outcomes for residents of southern Adelaide, opportunities to continue to foster a strong government partnership with Flinders in respect to training and research, training that is critical to preparing our next generation of healthcare professionals, training that is critical to attracting and retaining students, and research that is essential to creating job opportunities that our state so desperately needs. At Flinders, there is an opportunity for hospital and university staff to work together to ensure that patients benefit from the latest developments in research. An overworked and under-resourced Flinders Medical Centre threatens to erode this incredibly valuable collaboration.

Deputy Speaker, as you are well aware, in 2010 then premier Mike Rann said, 'The Repat Hospital is here to stay. The Repat Hospital will never, ever be closed by a Labor government.' Former minister for health John Hill, and now ACH board member, was also clear in his statements at the time. He said, 'It's not something that's going to be done by the government.' Before the last election, the current Minister for Health, the Hon. Jack Snelling, was adamant when he said:

SA Health is dedicated to maintaining the same high level of care that Veterans and the local community have come to expect from the Repatriation General Hospital, both now and into the future.

Despite these repeated promises from the Labor government under current administrations and former administrations to never, ever close the Repat, the health minister confirmed earlier this month in question time that he 'expects to be off the Repat site before the end of the year'. Before the end of the year, the government is planning to close the Repat facility that it said repeatedly, as recently as 2010 and then again in 2014, that it would never, ever close.

On 19 February this year, I attended the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin held in the Repat chapel. While sitting in the chapel, I started to reflect on the Repat and what it means both to me and the community. The Repat means 75 years of outstanding service to our veterans, to southern Adelaide and to all South Australians. Yet, sadly, in a year of what should be celebration, we are instead left in shock and despair at the Weatherill Labor government's intent to break its promise and bring to an end 75 years of history and service by closing this much-loved and treasured community asset. It is absurd and we will rue the day that the government took this decision, an incredibly short-sighted decision.

After 75 years, the state Labor government considers the Repat too old and too tired to invest in, yet this is a government that has just committed more than half a billion dollars of your taxpayer money for a patch-up job on South Australia's fragile electricity system when it could have spent $24 million to keep Alinta open. That $24 million would have helped ensure base load supply, provided a more reliable energy market and saved South Australians from further increases in their electricity bills.

The proposed half a billion dollar spend on this so-called energy crisis, much of which is the fault of this current government, is twice what the government is spending on capital works under the entire Transforming Health regime that they are trying to implement. The government could have totally rebuilt the Repat for that amount of money and still had a very healthy pocket of change left over.

So, today, I call on the government to stop its plan to sell the Repat. It is not too late. The Repat has not yet been sold. A contract with ACH has not yet been finalised. There is still time for the Weatherill Labor government to make the right decision to commit to its original promise to never, ever close the Repat. I call on the government to instead renew the Repat.

I call on the Independent member for Florey and Labor cabinet ministers the member for Frome and the member for Waite to stand up for South Australia's health network and stand up for the residents of southern Adelaide, and I call on the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to stand up for his constituents and demand that the government put to an end the appalling decision to close the Repat and, instead, commit to renewing it.

The government does not know how it is going to integrate the Repat services into the broader hospital network. It still cannot say where it will be able to shift the Repat's outpatient services, sleep unit, orthopaedic services or radiology services to. It does not know where it will shift the services to without crippling other parts of the network, and it does not know how the transition will be completed. Unless these questions can be answered, at the very least the government should suspend its negotiations with ACH and halt its plans to sell the Repat. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the Save the Repat campaigners and Augustinus Krikke for all your hard work, commitment and dedication to saving the Repat.

From this side of the house, we thank you very much for your support.