05 February 2020

Ceduna Hospital Suspension - Adjournment Speech

I rise today to speak on essential birthing services at Ceduna hospital in South Australia. These services have been suspended since mid-October last year. Since then, the hospital has been forced to extend its suspension twice more, with a new deadline of the end of this month. The suspension was triggered due to a shortage of staff. This suspension has left expecting mothers in Ceduna and surrounding areas forced to travel up to 800 kilometres to Port Lincoln, Port Augusta or Adelaide for the same services they were once able to access locally. Last year, the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia's vice-president, Dr Scott Lewis, stated that the extra travel adds further risk to mums and babies, with the worst-case scenario potentially resulting in roadside births. Expecting mums in Ceduna do not need this added stress. They do not need the stress of changes to their doctors and their hospitals and having to work out transport and accommodation when they are busy preparing to give birth.

This is yet another example of the unfair regional maternal health divide that exists in South Australia and Australia more broadly, and it is an absolute failure of the South Australian Liberal state government. We know doctors and nurses are working tirelessly around the clock for local families, but they are faced with an impossible situation and a flailing state government. The state minister for health is yet to set out a plan to address this issue, and the Premier has been completely missing in action.

In my first speech in this place, I stood here and called for more to be done to tackle the regional health divide nationally, especially when it comes to maternal health policy. It has already been four months since the suspension in Ceduna was put in place, and it has now extended even further. It is extremely concerning that women in Ceduna continue to be denied access to essential local birthing services. How many more extensions will the Liberal state government tolerate? How many more women will be forced to move their birth because of this closure? These are mums like Rebecca, who lives in a small town close to Ceduna.

Rebecca had planned out the perfect plan for the birth of her second child. But, weeks before she was due, this plan came undone. In an ABC report, Rebecca stated that the stress of this has dampened her excitement. She was referred to Port Lincoln for her birth, twice as far as Ceduna, not to mention given a new doctor and a long stay in town in case the baby arrives early or there are complications afterwards. Rebecca went from being a mother who was naturally excited for her second birth to a mother who was so stressed about organising babysitters, out-of-pocket costs and logistics that she said she sort of forgot that she was about to have a baby.

This is utterly unacceptable. The state health minister and the South Australian Premier must take responsibility and urgently act to support regional South Australian women and their families. The Liberals in South Australia claim that they are the party that stand up for regional Australia. Yet we have a regional town in my state at the beginning of what could be an exodus crisis. SA Rural Doctors Association president Dr Peter Rischbieth has stated it will be more difficult for the Ceduna hospital to reinstate these services the longer they are suspended. The whole community in Ceduna will be disadvantaged if they lose their maternity unit forever. A domino effect could follow, because, as we know, when you lose critical services like these, you lose people. The town will feel the effects of this, and there could be potential flow-on effects to other services. Imagine losing teachers and young families that no longer are able to have a baby locally and therefore no longer want to be in this town.

The women of Ceduna and their families and their babies deserve so much better than what the Liberal state government is giving them. The people of Ceduna deserve so much more than what this government is giving them. And we cannot allow them to sweep this issue under the rug any further. This goes to the heart of the regional urban health divide in Australia and fairness for expectant mothers and their families, no matter where they live. These women now have fewer options and less support to have their children than women in metro areas.

All women deserve high-quality maternal health services that are safe and accessible, regardless of where they live. I will continue to speak on this issue to make sure it stays on the state government's agenda, because women in Ceduna and their families deserve access to the highest quality maternal health services, just like South Australians in the city.

5 February 2020