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Thousands of patients face day surgery nightmare

Thousands of patients needing day surgery will be forced to travel further to get the surgery they need under the Labor Government’s planned health cuts. 

Many elderly patients who rely on public transport may need to stay overnight near a hospital to make a morning session appointment – given that patients are often required to be at the hospital by 7am.

Currently, ophthalmological day surgery can be accessed at eight Adelaide hospitals. The typical median age for cataract surgery is about 80 years of age.

Under Transforming Health, a dedicated day surgery centre will be established at the Noarlunga Hospital and Modbury Hospital will have a dedicated eye centre for ophthalmology day procedures.

As the crow flies, it is 38 km from Noarlunga to Modbury.

In its submission on Transforming Health the Council of the Ageing (COTA) foresees a logistical nightmare should eye surgery, currently performed at a variety of sites, move solely to Modbury Hospital, patients (people aged over 65 years are the greatest users in Noarlunga) will face logistical nightmares to access the service.

The Council’s submission includes a number of quotations highlighting stakeholder concerns:

“By concentrating services that are most in demand in fewer, more centralised locations compels those requiring those services to travel farther than might otherwise be the case. This does not necessarily improve care or provide better service; it does cause inconvenience, dislocation and cost to the consumer to achieve no measurable improvement in service or other benefit.”

“It is also a burden financially for seniors who can't drive or who do not have the means to travel across town to attend a specialist centre.”

“I agree with major centres for 'Strokes' etc. but downgrading or closing other hospitals I fear will mean more travelling for patients. As will specialist streams for elective surgery. I like the fact that we can attend local hospitals for surgery and other medical services. Those without transport or who are unable to drive will suffer.”

“As it is actually easier and faster to travel from downtown to the suburbs than vice versa, it would be more logical to establish emergencies in suburbs as after hours, when many accidents happen, the downtown has a relatively small population of residents.”

In its submission, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons argues that the location of the general elective day surgery centre at Noarlunga raises significant issues related to the capacity of those in the lowest socio-economic groups, particularly from the north, to access this service. A more central location for such a facility would improve access for all.

The Australian Medical Association (SA branch) is also concerned at the impact of the Government’s plans:

The proposed reforms will lead to many patients needing to travel greater distances to access the care they need. Furthermore, they may need to travel from one site to another for different procedures for the same medical condition.

For example, a patient seeing a medical practitioner at Modbury Hospital may be told that they need to have day surgery at Noarlunga. Similarly, a patient living in Aldinga needing eye surgery will be told to go to Modbury.

We note these proposals seem to have no regard for the impact on the public. Issues of transport, travel times for patients and families, costs and inconvenience seem to be overlooked. For example a patient living in the Barossa needing day surgery at Noarlunga will be getting up in the dark to get to Noarlunga by 7am.

Without appropriate public transport, adequate parking and adequate physical access, many patients will find it difficult to get to their treatment and some may not bother attending at all. As one medical practitioner said:

“I can envisage a scenario where a frail person in Gawler may need to go to Noarlunga for a procedure. What would such a patient be expected to do?”