Doctors campaign for new outer suburban hospital as emergency wait times blow out

Posted: 14th Nov

Doctors and radiographers in the city's west have warned patients' lives are at risk unless a 24-hour hospital is built in Melton by 2022.

Thirty-three GPs, cardiologists and radiographers have signed a letter imploring both state and federal governments to commit to fully funding a major public hospital in Melbourne’s fastest growing area.

"Due to inadequate access to hospitals, prolonged transfer times and extended waits in emergency departments, avoidable deaths of patients are now becoming a regular occurrence in the district of Melton," the letter reads.

"Why is Melton being neglected when all comparable population centres in Victoria have hospitals with 24-hour emergency departments, operating theatres, acute beds and psychiatric facilities?"

Rose Lakis is waiting to have bypass surgery at the end of the year. 

While the Andrews government has set aside $2.4 million for a business case for the first stage of a new hospital, it has stopped short of fully funding the hospital and is yet to provide a firm start date for construction.

Melton’s population has already exceeded that of Ballarat. It is expected to swell exponentially from about 164,000 to 200,000 over the next five years. By 2031, the population is projected to surpass 250,000 and grow steadily to more than 400,000 in the next 30 years.

Rose Lakis has iliac artery disease – a condition where the main arteries to her legs are blocked –putting her at risk of potentially fatal blood clots.

The 64-year-old, who lives in Kurunjang about two kilometres out of central Melton, cannot walk more than 20 metres at a time without her legs swelling up. She is waiting to have bypass surgery at the end of the year.

For now, Ms Lakis lives in daily fear she won't make it to the hospital if she has a blood clot or stroke.  In April, she suffered a life-threatening pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot in her left leg.

"That really scared me," Ms Lakis said. "If I was lucky enough to get an ambulance in time it would really depend on the time of a day I needed it because it could be 40 to 50 minutes before I even make it to hospital."

Melton GP Marcus Watson said the situation was complicated by lack of main roads or public transport linking Melton to major hospitals in Sunshine, Footscray or Ballarat.

Dr Marcus Watson says his patients often wait up to 14 hours in busy emergency departments. 

"At peak hour, the Western Highway is a car park not a freeway," Dr Watson said. "It makes it very, very difficult to get anywhere."

Dr Watson said some of his patients had waited up to 14 hours in busy emergency departments, including one elderly man who had excruciating abdominal pain due to kidney stones.  Another one of his patients, a six-year-old girl, was wrongly diagnosed with an inner-ear infection, when she had cerebellar ataxia, a condition which causes the brain swell following a virus.

"It's not a criticism of hospital staff in the west – the resources just aren't there so staff are always under pressure about what they can and can't do," he said. "There just aren't the beds, so they'll send patients home and cross their fingers they'll bounce back."

Bacchus Marsh Hospital is about a 15-minute drive from Melton, but Dr Watson said many locals had lost faith in the hospital, which was at the centre of a cluster of potentially avoidable baby deaths.  An independent report last year also found the hospital could not be deemed an "acceptable substitute" to major public hospital due to its small size.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the government remained committed to building the hospital.

"We’ve now fully funded the business case and vital early planning, and the search for experienced consultants to carry out that work is almost complete," Ms Mikakos said.

A spokesman for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government had made record investments into healthcare, with Victorian public hospitals to receive more than $32.4 billion over the next five years.