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Port Stephens Health Services

Ms KATE WASHINGTON (Port Stephens) (19:51): The health and hospital system in Port Stephens is in crisis. Recently I met with local nurses, whose stories horrified me. I have met with local patients who have suffered terrible, and sometimes tragic, outcomes because our hospitals do not have enough staff to cope. I have met with residents who were forced to fend for themselves in their hour of need because there were simply no ambulances available. The situation in Port Stephens is getting worse. Every single day I am contacted by patients whose stories are shocking. Some of them are appalling. All of them demonstrate that our health system is failing to deliver the care that my community deserves. Today is budget day. The Premier, the Treasurer and the health Minister have all been bragging about how wonderful this budget is. But Port Stephens' only local hospital—the Tomaree hospital—received nothing, not a cent, in this budget. I know that local nurses at Tomaree hospital will be gutted, and so will local residents. This Government is just not listening.

For years I have been fighting for more resources at Tomaree hospital. It desperately needs more nurses, more doctors and expanded services, but year after year the hospital is ignored by this Government. Sadly, this year is no different. Recently I met with the Nurses and Midwives Association, with ten local nurses who live in Port Stephens and work across the Hunter region. The stories they shared were horrific. One of them looked at me and said, "What we're doing isn't nursing. It's just crisis management, day after day. It isn't nursing, anymore." It was heartbreaking to hear these exceptional local nurses, with decades of experience, thinking of walking away from the profession altogether because of this Government. They told me that some nurses sit in their cars in the parking lot, prior to a shift, willing themselves to walk into the building because they are so understaffed and they are so worried about patient outcomes. After their shift—which is usually a double shift—they cry in their cars before heading home and putting on a brave face for their families.

Just think about that for a second. The situation is so bad in our hospitals that nurses are sitting in their cars before and after their shifts willing themselves, convincing themselves, to take another step. One of the nurses with many years of experience—someone we need to keep in the system—shared her fears and lost hope. Every day she just hopes that she will get through her shift without a career‑ending event. Every nurse in my office admitted that their workplace stress levels were so high that they had a fully mapped out plan to leave nursing because any day could be their last. That is not a cliche. They are at breaking point and they deserve so much better than this Government is offering.

Of course the ultimate victims of the system in crisis are the patients. At Tomaree Hospital, wait times for Port Stephens residents are dangerously long. Too many leave before they are even seen. They wait for dangerously long times for ambulances. When they are taken to a bigger hospital, they face some of the longest waits in the State. More than 57 per cent of patients at the new Maitland Hospital spend over four hours in emergency, waiting to be seen. That is one of the worst wait times in New South Wales. Yet this is where paramedics are now taking many local patients from Port Stephens. The whole system—from the ground up—has been neglected for so long that it is crumbling. The reality is new buildings do not save lives; doctors and nurses do. But this Government refuses to properly staff our hospitals and pay the workers. Enough is enough. Lives are being put at risk and our local health workers are being driven from their jobs. That is the record of this New South Wales Liberal Government: 12 years of waste and mismanagement.

New South Wales is heading towards a record $160 billion of debt. Our triple‑A credit rating has been shredded. We are the highest taxing State in Australia, yet our essential services are falling apart. We desperately need a new direction. We need a government that is willing to meet with nurses, hear their stories and not come into this place and pretend that everything's okay. Because it's not okay; they are not okay. When we meet with local nurses, hear their stories and see their heartache, we know immediately that they are not even fighting for themselves; they are fighting for all of us. They deserve better, because the healthcare system in Port Stephens is in meltdown. Given the naturally greater health needs of our region's predominantly vulnerable, aging population, the risks are too high. For the sake of my community's health and wellbeing, I could keep urging this Government to do more, to do something for Tomaree Hospital and for its nurses and workers. But it has not; today's budget makes it clear that it will not. So it is time to elect a government that will care.


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