26 February 2023

Wagga health hub open but regional ministry's future unclear

| Chris Roe
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Wes Fang, Jill Ludford and Dr Joe McGirr

Wes Fang, Jill Ludford and Dr Joe McGirr officially open the Wagga Health Services Hub. Photo: Chris Roe.

Wagga’s state-of-the-art Health Services Hub has been open for business since Stage 3 was completed in 2021, but the facility was officially opened on Friday.

While the expansive, multi-storey, multi-service precinct represents a big step forward for regional health, the future of a regional health minister in NSW is uncertain.

READ ALSO Dr Joe demands NSW Labor clarify its position on regional health

Nationals MLC Wes Fang, Member for Wagga Dr Joe McGirr and Murrumbidgee Local Health District CEO Jill Ludford did the honours, unveiling a plaque following a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony outside Wagga Base Hospital.

“Just over 100 years ago, my grandfather came here to lay the foundation stone for the pediatric ward,” said Dr McGirr.

“To be here today, 100 years later, at the opening of this wonderful facility was personally exciting.”

Smoking ceremony

Wiradjuri man Luke Wighton prepares the smoking ceremony to open the new health hub. Photo: Chris Roe.

Representing the Coalition Government and Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor, Wes Fang said the precinct would become the centre of health care in the Riverina.

“NSW Government is supporting rural and regional health with the continual investment in this site and the increased services,” he said.

“Not only are we backing in the rural and regional health portfolio through these investments, but we’re backing in our communities by making sure that they have timely and appropriate access to the healthcare that they deserve.”

But the future of a separate regional health portfolio was put under a cloud this week after a Labor frontbencher suggested that the position, created in 2021, could be scrapped if the Coalition loses the election in March.

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Labor health spokesman Ryan Park has previously committed to implementing the recommendations of a regional health inquiry, including a regional health portfolio within the cabinet and this month he said that the party would also appoint a deputy secretary to manage regional health.

Following comments from Labor’s Jenny Aitchison that it was “just not working”, Mr Park was less forthcoming, saying in a written statement that they would “make considered evidence-based decisions if we win government.”

Wes Fang

Nationals MLC Wes Fang says a single minister could juggle both health and regional health portfolios. Photo: Chris Roe.

Mr Fang said that Labor’s flip-flopping on the issue showed that they were unready to govern.

“We know that Minister Bronnie Taylor is committed to a minister for regional health,” he declared.

“It is a very different and very important role within the NSW Government.”

But how that role will function if the Coalition is returned was also put into question earlier this month when Ms Taylor was asked about rumours she would take over the broader health portfolio when veteran minister Brad Hazzard retires in March.

While she reaffirmed a commitment to the portfolio of regional health, Ms Taylor suggested that she would be able to handle both portfolios.

“Should the Nationals and Liberals win government in the next term, Bronnie Taylor will know the specific needs of that rural and regional focus, but will also have the wider view of health,” said Mr Fang, explaining how one minister with two portfolios was different to a single NSW Health portfolio.

“The NSW Health department now has within it, a section that is focused on rural and regional health,” he said.

“If she was to become the health minister, there is no doubt that that would remain inside NSW Health and Labor certainly haven’t guaranteed that at all.”

Wagga Base Hospital

Wagga Base Hospital’s health hub. Photo: Chris Roe.

Dr McGirr has advocated not only for a separate regional health minister but for a separate department and warned that the “traction” gained over the past year could be lost.

“At the end of the day, when you’ve got one minister over both, you’ve just got one health minister, the metro-centric way of doing things will just creep in and take over,” he said.

“So long as city-based people think that they could sort rural health, it will not get sorted.

“That’s why we need to have that constant accountability. Separate rural health minister, separate rural health department.”

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