Lake Macquarie Electorate Health Services
29th June 2023
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:30): I have on many occasions addressed this Parliament on what I believe is one of the most significant issues, if not the most significant issue, for Lake Macquarie residents, which is the availability—or, I should say, the lack of availability—of health services in the rapidly growing southern part of the electorate. We are all very well aware of the current challenges faced by the New South Wales health system. COVID undoubtedly has taken its toll on the health services in this State, but residents of Lake Macquarie and I have been raising these issues long before COVID wreaked its havoc. Not a week, and sometimes not even a day, goes by where my office is not contacted by Lake Macquarie residents raising health-related concerns. These concerns have some common themes: surgical wait times, access to health services and concerns around the quality of health care provided. In raising these concerns, I make absolutely no criticism of the dedication or work of our health professionals—our doctors, nurses, paramedics or allied health workers. These workers are at the coalface of our health system. They bear the brunt of the community's frustrations over its systemic failures. They do so with professionalism and compassion.
I acknowledge the proactive steps being taken by the Government to address these systemic issues. I acknowledge the creation of a surgical care taskforce, the introduction of safe staffing levels and the commitment to employ more nurses, paramedics and other health staff. Fixing the healthcare system in this State is no easy task and there will be no single solution. I heard the Minister for Health in this Chamber on Tuesday, when he stated that "building more bricks and mortar does not deliver health care". As a former mental health nurse, I agree with that sentiment. But access to and equality of access to health services is an important piece of the puzzle. The people of Lake Macquarie currently do not have access to adequate health services.
The Lake Macquarie area—particularly the southern lakes region, encompassing suburbs including Morisset, Bonnells Bay, Balcolyn, Yarrawonga Park, Wyee, Sunshine and Cooranbong—has some of the highest levels of residential growth in the State. According to census data, in the 10 years between 2011 and 2021 there was a 17.1 per cent increase in the number of residents of Lake Macquarie, with over 11,000 new residents coming into the electorate. Of those new residents, 8,400 moved to the electorate in the five years between 2016 and 2021, and nearly half moved to the Southlakes postcodes of 2264 and 2265. This area experienced a 28 per cent growth in population between 2011 and 2021, with an increase of over 5,000 residents. This growth is expected to continue, with major projects flagged for the Morisset area. Forward planning to address the health needs of this expanding population should be happening now.
In addition to its size and projected growth, the population of Lake Macquarie is an aging population with significant health challenges. The 2021 census ranked Lake Macquarie eleventh in the State in terms of population over 65, with 24.5 per cent of residents over the age of 65. The electorate also ranked fourth in the State in terms of residents with a long-term health condition; 23.3 per cent of residents of the electorate have such a condition. The expanding health needs of the Lake Macquarie electorate, and in particular the Southlakes area, can be acutely seen in the most recent Bureau of Health Information [BHI] data for Southlakes' nearest hospital, Wyong Hospital. The most recent quarterly BHI report, for the January to March 2023 quarter, showed a 7.1 per cent increase in the number of ambulance arrivals to Wyong Hospital compared to the same quarter in 2022. Over the same period, Wyong Hospital also experienced a 4.3 per cent increase in emergency presentations and a 56.1 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions from the emergency department.
These numbers are extraordinary. They demonstrate the increasing demands on health services from the growing Lake Macquarie population and they support the need for additional services. There is currently only one community health service for the entire Lake Macquarie electorate, located in the Westlakes area. I am not aware of any plan to expand health services in Lake Macquarie. We all understand there is a housing crisis in New South Wales and there is a need to find solutions, including increasing housing supply. The Southlakes area of Lake Macquarie will be part of the solution, but Lake Macquarie cannot continue to grow without its residents being provided adequate and equitable access to health services. Residents and taxpayers in Lake Macquarie have waited long enough. Hunter New England Health and the Government must turn their minds to solutions for this area.
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