THE Wonthaggi Hospital, which has been forced to make several serious cuts to services as a result of the unseemly fight between State and Federal health ministers, is now in line for a windfall funding boost. Overnight the impasse between Federal Labour’s Tanya Plibersek and the State Liberal’s David Davis has been broken with Ms Plibersek promising to refund the hospitals for the threatened reduction in finding – worth $375,000 in Wonthaggi’s case.

But what happens in subsequent years might be decided in the run up to the September 14 Federal Election.

Last week, Bass Coast Regional Health, which operates the Wonthaggi Hospital and other health care facilities, was forced to consider closing its emergency department overnight.

Such a cut to services wouldhave ment that those seeking treatment during the night would need to travel more than 90km from Wonthaggi to the nearest emergency ward – at Casey Hospital in Berwick. Bass Coast Regional Health’s (BCRH) chief executive, Lea Pope, told staff at an open forum last week that the shutting of the emergency department’s doors between 11pm and 7am was one of two “temporary” options currently being investigated. The other option, Ms Pope explained, was further closure of beds throughout the hospital. Five weeks of elective surgery appointments, scheduled from late March onwards, have already been scratched, resulting in the closure of six beds. Beds outside of the surgical ward, including sub-acute beds, could be affected, with Ms Pope indicating that additional bed closures would bring the total closed to 12 – a significant portion of the total beds within the hospital (around 45). Much like other hospitals and health services throughout Victoria, BCRH has been left reeling after being notified of substantial Commonwealth funding cuts in December. The organisation had $375,000 unceremoniously slashed from its 2012/13 budget last December, leaving the executive and board facing drastic choices in order to achieve a savings target. While these additional cuts to services are being considered, Ms Pope has stressed that no resolution had been made. “I wish to reinforce that no decision has been made at this stage and as soon as there is clarity we will provide information to the community,” Ms Pope said. “I want to make it clear that neither option is more likely than the other at the moment. “These are very difficult times and it is distressing to all concerned to be considering such significant service cuts.  “But I do want to reassure people that we will do all we can to ensure we have a safe system in place for our community.” Ms Pope said that at last week’s open forum, staff members were “very concerned” about the cutting of services and their own positions as employees. “There would be impacts on staff in either of the possibilities,” she said. However, since both options are being investigated as temporary measures, Ms Pope said job loss could be avoided by the affected staff going on leave. As of yesterday (Monday), Ms Pope was unable to give a time frame to indicate when a further decision regarding services will be announced.

Health minister on his way

Bass MP Ken Smith said yesterday that he was “disappointed” such decisions had to be made. “Every Victorian hospital has had to take cuts somewhere,” Mr Smith said. He said the state minister for health, David Davis, would be visiting Wonthaggi Hospital towards the end of next week. “I’m certain he’ll be speaking his concerns with the cuts being made,” Mr Smith said. Mr Davis will be officially opening Cowes’ ambulance station on the day – Thursday, February 28 – and launching a new mammogram service at Wonthaggi Hospital.