Anger, questions remain over hospital's overnight emergency unit closure

COLAC Area Health (CAH) has told a mass community meeting that it will not budge on its decision to close the hospital’s urgent care unit overnight, leaving the region with a single ambulance. 

An estimated 800 people packed into the meeting at the Colac Otway Performing Arts & Cultural Centre on Tuesday night looking for answers over the closure of the unit between between 10pm and 7am 

CAH chief executive Geoff Iles attempted to allay public fears that the town would be left vulnerable at night when just one ambulance will be on call to take emergency patients to Geelong, a hour away. 

Parts of the meeting became a microcosm of the stoush between the Commonwealth and the state over health funding, with Polwarth member Terry Mulder and federal Corangamite member Darren Cheeseman locked in debate over who was to blame. 

Forum co-organiser Laura Cook said many residents took home more questions than answers from the two-hour-plus session. 

She said confusion remained over whether the hospital will treat a patient who is critically ill if they present at the closed unit. 

“Mr Iles said they will accept category one patients ... he said they would be seen by ward staff, but ward staff are not trained in triage which posed a whole lot of questions about legality,” Ms Cook said. 

She said there were also concerns raised over where mental health patients would go, with mental health workers in the audience suggesting those suffering episodes of illness could end up in police cells rather than in clinical care. 

CAH has been urging the community to plan for emergencies in a similar way to bushfire threats. 

During the evening, Mr Cheeseman called on the CAH board to resign — which received some audience applause. 

“Very clearly the Colac community has no confidence in the decision of the board to close the facility,” Mr Cheeseman said. 

Greens senator Richard Di Natale — a former GP who lives 20 minutes from Colac in Deans Marsh — was denied a chance to speak at the meeting. 

Speaking to The Standard yesterday the Senator said he would push for a senate inquiry to establish the responsibility of health funding in Victoria when Parliament resumes next week. 

“The whole point of an emergency department is that people with chest pain don’t know whether they’re having a heart attack or indigestion,” he said. 

“It was hugely disappointing that there was no one there to take responsibility for the issue.” 

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