Werribee Mercy Hospital fails to meet community needs due to lack of funding, staff say

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When Jacquie Henning was pregnant in 2019, she expected to give birth at Werribee Mercy Hospital, a 10-minute drive from her home in Point Cook.

But he was told the hospital was full.

“I was a little shocked because this is the local hospital,” Ms. Henning said.

“I guess everyone in that area would go there.”

Instead, she was sent to Sunshine, a 45-minute drive away if the traffic was good.

“We were making an appointment for 10 am just to make sure we missed the traffic and could arrive on time,” Ms. Henning said.

The experience is not uncommon for people giving birth in the far southwest of Melbourne, where the population is growing faster than the hospital.

There were 3,897 babies born at Werribee Mercy Hospital in 2019, but council data showed there were 4,745 babies born to local families that year.

Many were sent to Sunshine or Geelong.

Births by the roadside

Jacquie Henning said she had a good childbirth experience at Sunshine Hospital.

But Kathy McMahon, director of pediatrics at Werribee Mercy Hospital, said many pregnant people were stuck in traffic on the way.

Director of Pediatrics Kathy McMahon (center) requests a specialized emergency service for children. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)

“We had women giving birth by the side of the road, and the ambulance brought them here because of, you know, the traffic,” she said.

Dr McMahon said it happens about once a month.

And that’s not the only sign that the Werribee Mercy Hospital isn’t keeping pace with the community.

Dr McMahon said the children were being sent to other hospitals for most surgeries and orthopedics, for MRI scans and for inpatient psychiatric care.

She said the hospital needed a specialized emergency department for children.

“Our emergency department is very old… it’s not really suitable for children,” she said.

“We have great doctors here. We have great senior medical staff – we have great staff, we just need the right facilities.”

Local surgeon says discharge of patients ‘devastating’

A tall man wears scrubs and blue hospital glasses and smiles for the camera.
Werribee Mercy Hospital colorectal surgeon Iain Skinner says they are not meeting the needs of the community. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Iain Skinner came to Werribee with his family in the 1970s, when it was a country town.

He is now a colorectal surgeon and director of surgery at Werribee Mercy Hospital.

Dr. Skinner is very passionate about giving his community the care they need.

“But we are in no way meeting the needs of our community.”

Dr Skinner listed the lack of an MRI scanner for important tests, lack of cancer treatments, x-ray services and pathology among the things the hospital is lacking.

He said turning away patients was “devastating.”

“It happens every day,” Dr. Skinner said.

“Every day. We have to transfer people because we don’t have the capacity.”

They just don’t have the space.

“These are just numbers – many patients have to leave this hospital or leave the area to get the care they need,” he said.

A man in a lavender shirt and blue jacket, bowler pocket square smiles for the camera.
Werribee Mercy Hospital General Manager Stephen Cornelissen said the hospital needed around $ 400 million for its redevelopment.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Dr Skinner stressed that the administration of the hospital was very supportive and said that many health services in the state were under pressure.

“They care about what’s going on here and are making this noise down Spring Street for us, getting the support our local community needs.”

Hospital wants funding for its redevelopment

Hospital chief executive Stephen Cornelissen said the hospital needed around $ 400 million for the next phase of its redevelopment, which would include an expanded emergency department, more maternity care, a MRI scanner and cancer enhancements and other services.

The state government has allocated $ 4.8 million in its 2020 budget for planning.

An electronic board in the emergency department indicates that there are 12 patients waiting and the wait time is four hours.
Staff at Werribee Mercy Hospital say they were under pressure like other health services.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Stephen Cornelissen said the hospital can only meet about half of the community’s health needs.

“It has increased in the last five to six to almost double. Our presentations have increased a lot, so the hospital is responding, but there is only so much we can do.”

Mr Cornelissen said it was sad to hear his colleagues describe the ways the hospital could not meet the needs of the community.

“Of course it’s heartbreaking, of course we want to be there for everyone,” he said.

Mr Cornelissen said he hoped to open the next stage of the hospital redevelopment within four to five years.

“We want our people in the West to have access to local services,” he said.

“We want the people of this southwestern region not to have to go to town [for services] that maybe if you lived in another suburb you might have access, ”he said.

A blue building with the Werribee Mercy Hospital sign surrounded by parked cars.
The government has said it is planning an expansion of the Werribee Mercy Hospital.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

A Victorian government spokesperson said it was investing record levels of funding and resources into the healthcare system – including across west Melbourne – to expand and modernize hospitals and ensure staff was well supported.

Werribee GP Joe Garra said dealing with the hospital was very frustrating.

“It’s more for people waiting for elective surgery,” said Dr Garra.

“And women’s health is a big deal because it’s a little bit limited.”

Back home in Point Cook, Jacquie Henning says the far west of Melbourne is developing rapidly, with many young families.

The hospital, she said, must be able to provide better care for women and children in particular.

“They really need to grow, fast.”


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