Govt tells sick and elderly to drive 80km

By Chris Oldfield

WITHOUT consulting three rural communities, the SA Government has abruptly slashed nursing services to people with cancer, heart conditions and multiple sclerosis.

Sick, infirm, and elderly people at Lucindale, Tintinara and Coonalpyn have been told to go to larger towns – an 80km round trip or more – for blood tests, vaccinations, removal of stitches, wound dressings and other nursing services. Yet they have no capacity to drive, and no public transport.

They are told to do the long trips because suddenly “no nurse is available” for local appointments.

The State Government on January 22 – via its Mount Gambier-based $212 million funded Limestone Coast Local Health Network (LCLHN) – abruptly abandoned Lucindale’s rural community nursing services.

Ten of the LCLHN health bureaucrats each take home annual salaries of $500,000-$680,000 – much more than the nursing services they have cut. 

Bureaucrats claim they only transitioned nursing services from a drop-in to an appointment service.

But a community nursing service “by appointment” has operated at Lucindale for more than 50 years, not a drop in service. An answering machine managed calls for appointments while nurses were busy. 

The Government further claims the nurses were “underutilised”, waiting around for people to drop in and that there was no consistency or structure. 

In contrast, patients at the coal face tell of busy nurses working through their lunch hours and overtime.

Esteemed Avenue yard dog breeder Kay Hocking was once a trailblazer in farming organisations and local government, lobbying for better outcomes in agriculture and rural healthcare.

Mrs Hocking now has life-threatening health issues and relies on the Lucindale Health Centre. 

The centre sparked when former Lucindale mayor and Woolumbool farmer, the late Ralph James, and his wife Nancy around 21 years ago bought a main street building and donated it to the community. 

The whole community rallied. Thousands of volunteer hours and fundraising dollars saw the building renovated and transformed into a medical centre. 

Community nursing and GP services shifted out of the St John Ambulance facility. An official health centre opening was held in July 2003 and a pledge from the Government guaranteed its future.

But those pledges were trashed on January 22 and the Lucindale phone line was diverted to what has become known locally as “Country Health Dis-connect”.

“The community was never consulted about what’s happening,” Mrs Hocking said.

“Now if we make an appointment, we get a phone call the day before to say ‘Sorry, we are not sending any nurses, we are too busy in Naracoorte, we don’t have enough staff’.

“Our appointment in Lucindale has to be cancelled. That has happened several times to me and to many other people too.

“I was meant to be having wound dressings every second day and they would ring and say ‘Well, we are not sending anyone today or tomorrow, but you can come to Naracoorte’.”

Mrs Hocking ended up doing the wound dressing herself despite the dangers of infection and injury.

“Up until then it had been healing well, the nurses had been doing a wonderful job,” she said.

A rural woman from Conmurra who did not want to be named eventually got an appointment at Lucindale and described the whole episode as “nonsense”.

“They wanted me to fill in pages and pages about my health history – I refused,” she said. “I was only having a blood test. My history is none of their business.”

Lucindale contractor John Motteram also got “the runaround” when trying to make an appointment for his wife Jo to have a blood test.

Mrs Motteram is severely disabled with multiple sclerosis (MS). Health bureaucrats claim catheter care is among services still offered, but Mr Motteram’s experience shows that is not true.

Lucindale Post office co-owner Geoff Robinson had a brain tumour removed last year and required bandages changed every second day.

“The nursing staff are fantastic,” he said. “You cannot fault them.”

He believed the Government was closing the service by stealth.

If people could not get appointments and had to go elsewhere, Mr Robinson feared health bureaucrats would claim there was no need for any kind of service at Lucindale.

Disability advocate Ashley Reynolds has MS. Suffering extensive third degree burns on his legs and back last year, he was initially treated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Requiring bandage changes every second day, Mr Reynolds was able to return home with the help of the Lucindale health centre nurses – freeing up an Adelaide hospital bed.

“The service I received from the nurses at Lucindale was exemplary,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the nurses here, I would still be stuck in a hospital.

“But when you need a blood test or need your burns checked and nurses are not available and you are told you have to go to Naracoorte and you can’t drive – urgh.”

Mr Reynolds was dismayed and appalled. But when he was told by a senior health bureaucrat that “what has taken place is how it is going to be and it will not change”, he got angry.

The one-time union official and Labor Party member gathered up community support and turned to local and State politicians for help.

Meanwhile, Naracoorte Lucindale mayor Patrick Ross told the council’s February meeting that he was successful in gaining support of the region’s seven mayors to meet the Health Minister, Chris Picton, regarding the abandonment of health services at Coonalpyn, Tintinara and Lucindale.

The Independent Member for MacKillop Nick McBride questioned Mr Picton in Parliament two weeks ago, asking if the decision regarding nursing services could be reviewed.

Mr Picton indicated he would set up a meeting between himself, the LCLHN board and CEOs which made the decision.

Mr McBride told The News that the community nursing services helped back up GPs who were already stretched to the limit “and in very short supply”.

He said the changes that were making it more difficult for locals in the rural centres to access any kind of local health care “are very questionable”.

“SA Health assures me through the LCLHN that there isn’t going to be a change,” he said. “But that is not what I’m hearing from the community.”

Mr McBride said he was working with those involved to make sure the services “are not lost and the access is not more difficult”.

LCLHN community and allied health executive officer Karen Harris issued a statement claiming the Lucindale nursing service “remains open by appointment to meet current demand and is available across more days of the week than the drop-in clinic’s former hours”. 

But Lucindale residents say for 50 years they have only ever had a service by appointment – so-called “drop in” services were for nursing emergencies. 

Mr Picton said the decision to change the Lucindale community nursing service from drop-in to appointments was made by the LCLHN and its local governing board.

“The local health boards need to listen to the health needs of their communities to deliver services in the best possible way,” the Minister said.

He said the LCLHN’s budget had been increased by more than 19 per cent in two years, equating to more than $31 million a year in extra funding.

Liberal MLC Ben Hood, of Mount Gambier, said when governments made their decisions from city offices, assuming regional health policy was one-size-fits-all, the results could have unintended consequences, “as we’ve seen in Lucindale, Coonalpyn and Tintinara”.

“Centralising regional health services away from the towns that need it under the guise of efficiency makes as much sense as building a ridiculously expensive new hospital with less beds than the old one,” he said.

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Major cabinet shakeup


Premiere announces new ministers, changed roles, and a housing super-portfolio
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Issue 196: 24 April, 2024: SPORTS


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Footy report
Mundulla v Kybybolite
KNTNA Round 2 results
KNTNA A Grade match reports
KNTNA Junior Report
Naracoorte and District Hockey
Naracoorte Rangers Baseball
Lucindale Bowling Club
Naracoorte A Grade Table Tennis
Naracoorte Golf Club Ladies
Robe social bowls
Bridge@Bowls
Lucindale Mens Golf
Squash Round 11
Apsley and District Motorsport Club
Apsley Golf Club

[…]
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Naracoorte Market Report 16/4/2024


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Wrong and rushed


By Nasik Swami
Wrong, rushed, and transactional. That’s how councillors Abigail Goodman and Damien Ross of the Naracoorte-Lucindale Council described the council’s recent decision to drop the prayer and replace the Acknowledgement of Country with a shorter and more “inclusive” two-line statement. During the council’s March meeting, a motion for a revised code of practice […]
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