The Guardian August 16, 2000


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.

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