Health services at Morisset

9th November 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:43): On the hill at New Lambton Heights, straddling the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie boundaries, sits the John Hunter Hospital. It has many highly skilled surgeons and doctors, wonderful nurses and dedicated support staff. They do an amazing job and they are rightly greatly respected by the community. The hospital opened in 1991 and since that time it has had billions of dollars spent on expanding its services and size. While there is much to laud John Hunter Hospital for, the seemingly all-consuming focus of local health administrators and planners to centralise services there is detrimental to communities. People are forced to make their way to that site for even relatively simple requirements because Health will not invest in where they live.

We know hindsight is a wonderful thing. But if ever there was a place where not to build a public hospital of this size and importance, New Lambton Heights would be it. Notwithstanding the fact that the hospital is in a bushfire zone and has its own bushfire escape plan, it is incredibly hard to access. For many residents of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the broader Hunter region, a trip to John Hunter Hospital requires some planning. Preparing a packed lunch and carrying a few extra bottles of drinking water for the trip is not a bad idea. If one survives the traffic snarls around the hospital precinct in peak times, they then discover the joys of finding somewhere to park and having to manage the pain of the parking fee.

In the letters pages ofThe Newcastle Herald, many locals still ponder an extension of the city's light rail system to John Hunter Hospital in a desperate bid to find better ways of getting there. The reality is that there is no light rail system capable of getting up the hill to where the hospital actually sits. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but considering the sites that were chosen in the 1980s for the John Hunter Hospital begs the question: What qualities were considered to be most important for its location? Let us talk about foresight. When I stood in this very spot 15½ a half years ago to deliver my inaugural speech to Parliament, I spoke about the glaring void in health services between Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital and the Central Coast's Wyong Hospital, particularly casualty and outpatient services. At the time of my election to Parliament, I was part of a significant push from the communities in south-western Lake Macquarie for better public health services in the area and a hospital at Morisset.

A committee chaired by John Quinlan from the Sunshine Progress Association examined what would be needed in the future in our area. On the committee was the former Federal member for Charlton, Greg Combet, and a range of community leaders including many with contemporary or recent experience in the health system. Despite what I and many others believed was a compelling case to at least plan for future healthcare delivery in the Southlake area, the argument was dismissed. Hunter New England Health had no plan then; there is no plan now. Strategic planning for this area has been woeful. The billions of dollars for capital works coming to the area's health service has been welcomed over the years, but sadly little of it seems to be directed beyond the conglomeration on the hill 60 kilometres away at John Hunter Hospital.

The level of my frustration and that of the local community is beyond palpable. It is made even worse when we see the Government spending millions and millions of dollars on roads around John Hunter Hospital just to ease the traffic trying to get in and out of it. It is mindboggling because it never had to be that way. When will we start providing public health services and building facilities in places where people can easily access them? For example, Morisset is on the main northern rail line. It is just a minute off the national M1 motorway. It is in the middle of a rapid expansion area where the local population will grow by another 6,000 people in the next few years alone. What does it take to get someone at the Hunter New England Local Health District to understand that? Sadly, we are now rapidly losing sites in the local area where a hospital or public health facility could be located. Those sites should have been on Hunter Health's radar but are now missed opportunities.

The curtain may be coming down on another government, but I am hopeful I will be part of the new Parliament next year. Whatever form that new government may take, I can assure it right now that the large and growing population of the greater Morisset area has the right to be provided with accessible public health care. Things must change. Planning for a new hospital must begin. Investment must be made and the equitable provision of public healthcare services must be extended to the people of south-western Lake Macquarie.

Website: Read Parliamentary Hansard here

<< Previous | Next >>