Health services in south Lake Macquarie

19th May 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (16:57): The State Government is currently spending almost $1 billion on further expanding the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. In anyone's language, spending that sort of money on better health facilities is a good thing, but it has again raised the question of why we continue to centralise the Hunter's health services in an area so beset with access problems and so far away from the region's major growth centres. The John Hunter Hospital is already among the State's busiest hospitals and is located on a constrained site that is not easily accessed. In fact, it requires the Government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on new road entries and bypasses just to make it functional.

That hospital is supposed to cater for people in my electorate but, for the 20,000 people in the south-western postcodes of the Morisset area, a trip to the John Hunter Hospital can be 60 kilometres away, which is a three-hour bus ride. Morisset is now recognised as one of the fastest-growing areas not just in the Hunter but in the State, yet it is without easy access to health services. There is currently more than $1.2 billion worth of private investment going into a number of major projects in the Morisset area, including new residential subdivisions, which will swell the area's population by a further 6,000 in a few short years.

I began campaigning for a hospital at Morisset long before I was elected to Parliament 15 years ago. Over that period, more than a dozen reports flagged the growing population of that district and the future health needs of people living there, yet here we are. The population is booming but access to decent health care is an hour's drive away. Proper health care is not a luxury but a right, which the people of Morisset pay for in taxes. Access to timely and localised health care should be an option for them. When are we going to start putting money into health services in areas where people actually live and that can be properly accessed?

The city of Lake Macquarie is now home to about 210,000 residents and is among the biggest local government areas in the State. The Government's own planning policy suggests that the population will expand by about 60,000 over the next decade, and places like Morisset, Wyee and Cooranbong will see the large bulk of that expansion. The time for a hospital and health precinct at Morisset has arrived, just like the dozens of reports and State planning documents over the past two decades have predicted it would. Neither I nor the Southlake community advocate for an acute care hospital at Morisset. The model that we have consistently proposed would provide services such as outpatient care, chemotherapy, dialysis, X-ray, pathology, midwifery, mental health services, dental services, drug and alcohol counselling, physiotherapy, dieticians and social workers. It would take a significant amount of strain off the John Hunter and Wyong hospitals.

Morisset is also located on the main northern rail line, which no other hospital in the Hunter region is, so the access issues we struggle with at the John Hunter Hospital, Belmont and Wyong do not exist at Morisset. I have always thought it would be novel to put a hospital near the M1 and near rail access. Further, the Government and NSW Health currently owns extensive landholdings in the area. Five months ago the State Government announced a $500 million investment in regional and rural health. Again, that is great news, but consider that more than $111 million was allocated to a redevelopment of Cessnock Hospital, which is also operated by Hunter New England Local Health District. According to the comments of the member for Cessnock quoted in theNewcastle Herald, he had no idea that the money was coming, nor was he aware where it would be spent.

In fact, not even the health district bosses could tell anyone where the $111.5 million was going to be spent, with a Health Infrastructure NSW spokesperson telling theNewcastle Herald there would be a "review of clinical services needs at Cessnock, and planning will be carried out by the local health district to inform the development". I am not going to deny the people of Cessnock access to decent health services, but how on earth can the Government be throwing that amount of money into a hospital redevelopment plan that no-one seems to know about when an area such as Morisset has nothing to begin with? I wholeheartedly recognise the additional funding that the State Government has directed to the health sector over the past decade, but it has to start directing it to areas where populations are rapidly growing. We cannot go on building empires on existing sites that people in growing areas having difficulty accessing. It is time for the New South Wales Government to make a commitment to the equitable provision of health services to people living in the Morisset area.

Website: Read the Parliamentary Hansard here

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