Yass Valley Council has given in principle support to a petition requesting the NSW government commits funding to plan and build a new hospital with a maternity ward.
In principle support means the council has agreed to the idea of it, but hasn’t committed to specific details or wouldn’t know if it’s possible at this stage.
The decision was made at the council meeting on Wednesday July 25, when councillors also decided to “enter into discussions with the state member (Pru Goward) and Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) management regarding the community need for forward planning to be undertaken for a new hospital.”
Councillor Jasmin Jones, also a local mother who has been a strong advocate of this issue personally, met SNSWLHD chief executive Andrew Newton with Deputy Mayor Kim Turner and council staff on Monday July 30.
She said the meeting was positive: “Today’s meeting confirmed that good choices were made by councillors to support looking for places to build a new hospital with maternity and make this a goal for the community in the next five years.”
Cr Jones was responsible for launching the petition as a private citizen in July with two other local mothers. An issue close to home, she gave birth to her third child on the Barton Highway when having to travel across border to deliver.
Cr Jones added that it was made clear in the meeting “that the current hospital could not adequately cater to births or surgery and that new infrastructure would be required if that service was going to be delivered.”
The council and SNSWLHD will now work together to gather data to determine Yass Valley’s future health needs. Next steps would also include locking in a new clinical services review to determine which services are needed for the community now and in the future.
A SNSWLHD spokesperson said, “SNSWLHD will continue to engage with the community to ensure the clinical needs of the region have been reviewed in order to deliver a facility and health services that are safe, high quality and responsive to the needs of the Yass community both now and into the future.”
How did we get here?
Conversation surrounding the existing hospital and a new hospital in Yass has been growing over the last few months.
This has been driven by community complaints that the existing hospital isn’t up to scratch, with people having to travel to Goulburn or Canberra hospitals for a number of services.
Currently, full maternity is not offered at Yass District Hospital and this has been at the forefront of conversation, with a number of local women giving birth on the highway.
SNSWLHD did agree to $8m in funding to redevelop the hospital, improving services by adding 24-hour access to emergency care, an additional treatment bay, a dedicated ambulance entry point, an increase from ten to 12 inpatient beds, improved community and allied health facilities, and new dedicated onsite staff accommodation. However, this still did not include maternity.
Councillors have also deemed the redevelopment insufficient. Cr Michael McManus described it as a “refresh” rather than a redevelopment.
In July, the push for a maternity ward to be included in Yass was increased, as Cr Jones, Lindsay Hollingsworth, another local mother that delivered on the Barton Highway, and Bec Duncan, also a local mother, launched a private petition for the cause. Councillors argued at the July meeting that new infrastructure would be necessary to support a maternity ward, a point that was agreed with by SNSWLHD when it met with council on Monday 30 July, according to Cr Jones.
A new hospital has also been supported by Yass Settlement Strategy figures, which show a growing population with changing health needs. Yass Valley is predicted to grow beyond a population of 20,000 by 2026.
Cr Jones said, “We need to look beyond the services that are currently being delivered here. In five to 10 years, we will have a population on-par with that of Goulburn today, a community that has been pledged $120m to ensure its local hospital facilities are adequate. It already has a number of services of which maternity is one of them. It takes time to plan and develop a hospital, between five to 10 years, so we need to start the conversation now and fast track our community’s needs.”
Deputy Mayor Kim Turner was among those who backed the movement for a new hospital in Yass at the July council meeting.
He said, “As the oldest in this room, I can remember a time when Yass District Hospital had one of the best emergency operating theatres in the world, because people were killing themselves on the highway and we needed to save their lives.
“Since I came to Yass, I have watched the deterioration of the hospital to become a bedroom for geriatrics. It has not been used as a hospital; we’ve watched our services be destroyed over the years and handed to Canberra. Unfortunately, when babies are born, they don’t necessarily say they’ll hang around until they get to Canberra.”
Not everyone agreed however, with Cr Geoff Frost speaking against the proposal for a new hospital.
“The way services are being delivered is changing and more and more people are becoming specialised. In order to do that - even with our expanded population - we need to be able to transfer people to where the services are. And that’s what the current service does.”
Cr McManus stood on middle ground saying, “If the community decides they want a new maternity ward then I’m keen to support that,” but reminded of the need of other services – not just maternity – such as radiology, oncology and dialysis. He also raised a concern that Yass might not be able to get the specialised staff to provide those services, but Cr Allison Harker disagreed.
“As part of this process, we will do analysis of all the services needed, it will not just be maternity. We are talking a five- to 10-year process; let’s make a decent hospital and attract the staff. I think we have to look at the glass half full.”