Renal failure – Minister visits cramped unit

FIRST-HAND LOOK: Limestone Coast-based Legislative Council Labor candidate Clare Scriven and new Health Minister Peter Malinauskas with long-term renal dialysis patient Tracey Brooks. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

THE state’s new health minister will not commit to funding the $2m redevelopment of the Mount Gambier Hospital’s renal dialysis unit, despite an emotional plea by a renal dialysis patient.

Health Minister Peter Malinauskas yesterday toured the cramped renal unit with Country Health SA officials, which was his first visit to the hospital in the new role.

Described as the worst renal dialysis unit in the state, it is understood there is a growing waiting list due the lack of chairs at the substandard facility.

Long-term renal patient Tracey Brooks – who was receiving dialysis yesterday as the high-profile politician visited – described the cramped four-chair renal dialysis unit as “disgusting”.

“It is just hopeless, I don’t feel safe in here,” Ms Brooks told the minister during his tour.

The renal patient said she was worried about the lack of quick access to oxygen and other lifesaving equipment if she suffered a “code blue” episode.

Ms Brooks said she had seen up to five patients go into “code blue” during her dialysis sessions.

“There is not even oxygen equipment on the walls, they have to bring in the oxygen bottles from outside,” the patient told The Border Watch.

Ms Brooks also raised concerns over hygiene standards given a large bin was close to her bed, as well as the lack of privacy for patients.

But the long-term patient described the staff who worked in the unit as “amazing” and dedicated.

Speaking to The Border Watch during yesterday’s hospital tour, Mr Malinauskas – whose government has poured millions of dollars into renal units at centres closer to Adelaide – said he wanted to tour the Mount Gambier facility before making a decision.

“To be able to see these things first-hand puts it into context, which you don’t get if you read a brief,” the minister said.

While conceding it was a confined area, Mr Malinauskas said it was clear patients were receiving an “outstanding service” through the quality care given by staff.

However, he said it was obvious there was room for improvement in regards to the physical infrastructure.

“We will see if we can accommodate the unit in the long list of priorities in the health system,” Mr Malinauskas said.

He said he could not give a commitment to the funding despite it being a regional health priority for some years.

“I am going through the process of trying to categorise things about what are the priorities and where we will make investments going forward,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“With an ageing population, there are demands on our health system absolutely everywhere – what we are trying to do will get the best bang for our buck.”

While the Mount Gambier renal unit would be considered in the budgetary process, he conceded there was a genuine need for the project.

Mr Malinauskas said it was obvious there was widespread support across the regional community for the Mount Gambier renal upgrade given the success of the recent Bollywood Ball fundraiser.

The minister argued it was important country health services received their fair share of health services.

Admitting large amounts of money was being poured into the metropolitan health system such as the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, he said regional people also accessed these services in Adelaide.

Mr Malinauskas also discussed the renal unit with members of the Mount Gambier Hospital Health Advisory Council, as well as Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell.

IN THE PIPELINE: Country Health SA executives Jayne Downs and Maree Geraghty show Health Minister Peter Malinauskas the renal unit’s $2m redevelopment plans, along with renal unit manager Nebu Mathew. The officials are standing in a storage room adjacent the renal unit, which will be used to house the redevelopment. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO