WA maternity hospital under the knife
by Joan Williams What is the future for the King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH)? This is the question WA women are asking as our main women's maternity hospital and teaching and research centre is threatened by the bureaucratic financial manoeuvres of the Court Government and the Minister for Health John Day. It has already aroused widespread anger and protests from the women's movement, midwives and individuals and drawn a statement from the Premier that KEMH would not be broken up to serve different areas. But the Premier failed to scotch the widespread belief that the government has a secret agenda for the use of the valuable land on which the hospital stands by the railway in the centre of the old, inner Perth suburb Subiaco. Staff including doctors have been gagged by the Minister from speaking out. The Government's next tactic was to divert attention from the real issues by setting up an Inquiry into Obstetric and Gynaecological Services at KEMH, focusing on the death rate of infants and other medical matters rather than on the financial cuts that brought about staff shortages, and limited its valuable teaching role. Women are referred to KEMH from all over the State for difficult pregnancies and when it is likely that they will have a complicated delivery, so it is understandable that the hospital will record a higher incidence of adverse outcomes. At a meeting on August 10, jointly organised by Women's Electoral Lobby (WA) (WEL), the National Council of Women (NCW) and the YWCA, State Health Minister John Day repeated Court's statement that the hospital would not be shifted in the lifetime of the present Government (probably a short time with an election within six to eight months!). The Minister used a blitz of figures, with the help of Dr Michael Moodie (executive officer of KEMH and Princess Margaret Children's Hospital) to sideline any firm commitment. Much ado about past and future funding — presumably the same amount over many years that has put the knife into staff levels, equipment and resources — not the increase needed for KEMH to keep the role that has earned it an international reputation for excellence. The Minister introduced his backstop, Senior Medical Officer Metropolitan Health Dr Bryan Stokes. Sheila McHale (Opposition Shadow Minister for Health) said the ALP general policy was for public hospitals to be funded at Commonwealth as well as State levels to ensure adequate staffing to attract and retain staff. She had seen documents on the possible closure of KEMH, which the ALP saw as a centre of excellence. Dr Harry Cohen, Senior Gynaecologist at KEMH, spoke of the hospital's first duty of care to mothers and infants and outlined its history from its establishment in 1910 by the fund raising of the women's movement, its placement under government control in 1916, and by 1994 becoming a centre for women's health. He said amalgamation could save some money, but not enough to bring it up to standard as a teaching hospital. There had been no increase in funding for the last eight years. But its services were vital, they had to be continued by upgrading. The meeting was chaired by Margot Boetcher (chairperson of the Health Consumers' Council and the WEL). The audience included Jan McFarlane (ALP Member for Stirling), Giz Watson (Greens MLC), ex-Senator Patricia Giles, representatives of the NCW and the YWCA, midwives, nurses and others. WEL has made a submission to the Inquiry including recommendations for $25 million in immediate funding; that the hospital remain on its site in perpetuity; and that the Inquiry give due recognition to its dedicated staff for their unfailing service to the women of WA and their babies.