The past months of the COVID pandemic have been a distressing and anxious time. We have all scrolled through our news feeds as we waited for the latest infection numbers. Our lives have been disrupted in ways that we could never have imagined.
Centrelink queues have stretched around the block and, as they dipped into their savings or super, people have been worried about how they will look after their families. Many have lost loved ones.
However, we may take comfort from the fact that we are beneficiaries of a world-class health system. We have the world's best health professionals working in first‑rate hospitals with the best equipment medical science has to offer.
During this pandemic it is critical that the community has confidence in our health system and public hospitals. Even without a pandemic, people deserve to know that their local hospital has the equipment, expertise and resources to meet the needs of their community.
For the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on Canterbury Hospital, I fear that just is not the case.
Today I echo the calls of my colleagues the member for Canterbury, the member for Lakemba and the Federal member for Watson, Tony Burke, for an urgent and complete upgrade of Canterbury Hospital.
While we welcome the expansion of the emergency department services, it is clear that a full upgrade is required to meet the needs of the inner west community. Despite the O'Farrell Government noting in its 2013 strategic plan that the hospital would need redevelopment by 2017, commitments from this Government to expand capacity at the hospital have been scant.
In 2018-19, $1 million was allocated for "planning" but we are no closer to a substantive upgrade. The current expansion of the emergency department was in response to the ballooning emergency waiting times, but it does little to meet the complex and growing needs of the community.
More than 100,000 people depend on Canterbury Hospital. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that one-third of those people come from significantly disadvantaged communities. Forty per cent of households in the hospital catchment area are classified as low income, 48 per cent of residents were born overseas and almost two‑thirds do not speak English at home.
There will always be more people coming into the catchment. The strategic plan shows that a 39 per cent population increase is likely by 2031. People aged 65 and over is set to comprise between 49 per cent and 65 per cent of that growth. Last year the number of patients on the elective surgery waiting list rose by 14 per cent. P
eople who depend on Canterbury Hospital have higher than average rates of type 2 diabetes, asthma and life-threatening cancers including bladder, liver, lung, stomach, thyroid and gestational cancers. However, despite the complex medical needs of local patients, there is no renal dialysis, angiogram or MRI scanning technology at the hospital and only limited ultrasound capacity.
An elderly patient reported being admitted to Canterbury Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was kept there for a number of days for observation before being sent to Concord for an angiogram because that service could not be provided at Canterbury.
Following his test at Concord, doctors immediately scheduled him for a triple bypass the next day. The operation saved his life, but he was understandably upset by having to move hospitals to get the medical care that he needed.
Recently, an elderly female Chinese Australian constituent visited my office to share her experience of Canterbury Hospital. She was admitted with an injury and, following complications, ended up staying for a week. She praised the staff and the care. She was near tears as she expressed her gratitude at having left the hospital healthier and without a cent to pay, but she visited my office because she wanted to share her concern for its overall state. She was shocked that the hospital was so run down and she expressed concern for the wellbeing of patients and staff. She is not alone.
Patients at Canterbury Hospital rated the standard of the wards, rooms, bathrooms and toilets as "significantly less favourable" than the New South Wales hospital average.
Now is the time for the Government to commit to a full upgrade of Canterbury Hospital. COVID-19 has put our hospitals and every worker in our healthcare system under immense strain.
As we work to rebuild our economy in the wake of the virus, a comprehensive upgrade will give the local economy a desperately needed injection of jobs and cash.
Together we can do the right thing by both the community that depends on Canterbury Hospital and by its extraordinary staff.
We must ensure that it remains a first-class modern hospital in the world's best healthcare system.