PATIENTS in the Colac area needing emergency medical treatment will be forced to either Warrnambool or Geelong from next month.
Colac hospital’s after-hours emergency department will shut from February 1 with Colac Area Health blaming federal government funding cuts for the drastic move.
It means ambulances that would have taken patients to the Colac hospital will now take emergency cases direct to either Barwon Health in Geelong or Warrnambool Base Hospital. The decision has sparked a blame game between political opponents in Corangamite over who should pay to keep the unit open.
While the urgent care service at Colac is not a formally funded emergency department, on-call GPs had been available to see patients with pressing needs.
Last year, Colac Area Health (CAH) chief executive officer Geoff Iles warned the service would need to fill a $255,000 black hole in its books after the federal government sliced $107 million from its health funding to Victoria.
On Friday he delivered the news to staff that the unit would shut its doors from February 1.
“The last thing we want to do is reduce the health services that we provide to the community, particularly as we operate in a regional area,” Mr Iles said. “However, the funding reduction of $255,000 this financial year has left us with no choice.”
Fewer than five people use the service a night, with only one serious category 1 emergency case presenting every couple of months. The community is now being told to make plans for a medical emergency in a similar way to a bushfire plan.
“We carefully considered every possible option for reducing our operating costs, but at the end of the day the only option was to close the service that would cause the least negative impact on the community and on our staff,’’ Mr Iles said.
But the move has become a localised brawl between the federal and state governments over health funding.
Member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman launched a petition targeting the state for $600 million health cuts made in the last federal budget, while the Liberal candidate for Corangamite Sarah Henderson has her own petition calling on federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to reinstate the hospital’s funding.
“Colac Area Health CEO, Geoff Iles, has made it clear that if these funds are reinstated the hospital’s overnight urgent care service will be re-opened,” Ms Henderson said.
Mr Iles was in no doubt as to where the blame lay: “It’s very clear that the $255,000 we needed to find was directly related to the decision by the federal government.”