When Jacquie Henning was pregnant in 2019, she expected to give birth at Werribee Mercy Hospital, a 10-minute drive from her home in Point Cook.
But she was told the hospital was full.
“I was a bit shocked as it’s the local hospital,” Ms Henning said.
“I would take it that everyone in this area would go there.”
Instead, she was transferred to Sunshine, which is a 45-minute drive, if traffic was good.
“We’d book appointments for 10 o’clock just to make sure we missed the traffic and could get there on time,” Ms Henning said.
This is an experience that is common for those who give birth in Melbourne’s outer west, where the population grows faster than the hospital.
In 2019, Werribee Mercy Hospital had 3,897 infants, but data from the council showed that there were 4,745 children born to local families.
Many were sent to Sunshine and Geelong.
Births on the side of the road
Jacquie Henning stated that she had a positive experience giving birth at Sunshine Hospital.
Kathy McMahon from Werribee Mercy Hospital was the director of paediatrics and said that many pregnant women got stuck in traffic while on their way to the hospital
“We’ve had women who have given birth at the side of the road, and the ambulance has brought them here because of, you know, traffic,” she said.
Dr McMahon stated that this happens about once per month.
This is just one indication that Werribee Mercy Hospital has not kept up with the community.
Dr McMahon stated that children were being transferred to other hospitals for orthopaedics and most surgeries, MRI scans, and inpatient psychiatric treatment.
She stated that the hospital should have a specialist emergency department for children.
“Our ED is very old … it’s not really appropriate for children,” she said.
“Children are in the mix with adults with mental health issues, adults with COVID being intubated. They can see all this.
“We have some great doctors here. We’ve got great senior medical staff — we’ve got some great staff, we just need the appropriate facilities.”
Local surgeon says turning patients away ‘devasting’
Iain Skinner, a member of his family, came to Werribee in the 1970s as a rural town.
He is now a colorectal surgeon, and the director for surgery at Werribee Mercy.
Dr Skinner is passionate about providing the best care for his patients.
“I joke that I have a little flat spot about here [pointing to his head], which is correlating to a little flat spot on my wall in my office, where I beat my head against the wall trying to make things happen,” he said.
“But we do not meet our community’s need in any way.”
Dr Skinner cited the absence of an MRI scanner to perform important tests and the lack radiology, pathology, and radiology services as some of the problems in the hospital.
He stated that turning away patients was “devastating.”
“That happens every day,” Dr Skinner said.
“Every single day. We have to transfer people out because we don’t have the capabilities.”
They also just do not have the space.
“It’s just numbers — a lot of patients have to leave this hospital or leave the area to get the care they need,” he said.
Hospital wants funding for redevelopment
Stephen Cornelissen (hospital chief executive) stated that the hospital required approximately $400 million to complete the next stage in its redevelopment. This would include an expanded emergency room, more maternity care, and improvements for cancer.
In its 2020 budget, the state government allocated $4.8 Million for planning.
Cornelissen stated that he hopes to open the next phase of hospital redevelopment within four to five years
“We want our people in the west to have access to services that are local,” he said.
“We want the people in this south-west region not to have to go into the city [for services] that maybe if you lived in another suburb maybe you’d have access to,” he said.
A Victorian government spokesperson said they were investing record levels of funding and resources into the health system — including right across Melbourne’s west — to expand and upgrade hospitals and ensure staff were well supported.