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Labor’s broken promise a threat to “our sickest babies”

The Weatherill Labor Government’s Transforming Heath plan threatens our sickest babies and breaks a clear commitment to maintain a full-service Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Flinders Medical Centre.

As a result of Labor’s plans to downgrade the NICU, every year around 200 sick babies will no longer be able to receive intensive care at Flinders and will need to be transported to the city.

“This disgraceful breach of promise by the Weatherill Labor Government will place some of our very sickest babies at increased risk,” said Shadow Minister for Health Stephen Wade.

“Transferring a very sick baby from one hospital to another adds unnecessary and unacceptable risks to that baby’s health.

“In addition to worrying about the health of their very sick babies some parents living south of Adelaide will now be forced to travel more than 100 kilometres a day to visit their newborn in hospital.

“Making families travel long distances to visit their very sick babies will compound the enormous stress these parents are already under.

“That length of journey will be beyond the capacity of some of the parents of very sick babies who will be moved from Flinders Medical Centre.”

The Labor Government’s proposal is actively opposed by more than 12,000 South Australians who have signed an online petition.

Labor plans to close the NICU’s 11 intensive care cots – that is the third of the FMC Neonatal Unit which looks after the sickest 25 per cent of the babies.

The closure of NICU is a breach of clear and repeated commitments by the Weatherill Labor Government.

In a release on 20 February 2014, Premier Weatherill declared:

“Labor will re-develop the neonatal unit at Flinders Medical Centre to make sure our sickest babies get the best possible care.”

Then Labor candidate for Elder Annabel Digance said:

“This is about building the best level of support for that family close to where they live. This is about cots – not cuts.”

At last year’s State Budget, Treasurer Koutsantonis, explicitly stated that the Labor Party would honour its election promises and the $17.5m funding for Flinders’ NICU was maintained. 

In his Budget Speech, Treasurer Koutsantonis said:

“Furthermore the budget provides:
• $17.5 million to be spent over the next three years to redevelop and expand the neonatal unit at the Flinders Medical Centre, consolidating all of the hospital's neonatal intensive care, special care and isolation requirements to be provided in one location
• $15 million per annum from 2017–18 for the operating costs of the consolidated neonatal unit at the Flinders Medical Centre
(Budget Speech 2014, p.7)

“This dangerous plan to close the NICU has come out of nowhere,” said Mr Wade.

“The capital expenditure for this project was not stopped in last year’s budget and parked in Hospital Reconfiguration Fund as was the case with other health projects.

“There was no hint of the closure of the NICU in the Transforming Health discussion paper.

“There was no warning that the State Labor Government was going to break its promise and cut the very unit it had promised to expand.

“And, of course, the Weatherill Government remained silent about its plans during two recent by-elections in seats that will be affected by the closure.

“The State Liberals are calling on the Weatherill Government to deliver its election promise and reverse this dangerous decision.”