The Mirror News

“No plans to close any hospital” in State health services review

A REVIEW process of Victoria’s 76 metropolitan and regional health services begun in late 2023 is soon expected to present a draft Health Services Plan to State Minister for Health Mary-Ann Thomas, with “no plans to close any hospital across Victoria”

A Victorian Government spokesperson said “our health system – like health systems across Australia and around the world – is facing significant challenges due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is important we look at how the system is organised to ensure we are delivering the very best health care, closer to home for all Victorians wherever they live,” the spokesperson said.

“No decisions have been made – [an] independent [Expert Advisory] Committee has not finalised their report to government,” they said.

 ”We have no plans to close any hospital across Victoria, including in South Gippsland.” 

The government spokesperson went on to say that “the current structure of Victoria’s health system has been in place for more than 20 years, despite massive changes in how healthcare is delivered, and the specific healthcare needs of our communities.

“We have sought the invaluable insights of all of Victoria’s health services to contribute to the optimal design and governance of the public health service system – looking at how public health services can better work together and best utilise resources to deliver improved care for all Victorians,” the spokesperson said.

“This work is being led by the independent Expert Advisory Committee.”

“Regional Hospitals Brace”

 Despite the assurances of the State Government, a recent article published in a regional Australian newspaper about possible forced amalgamations of Victoria’s current 76 health services has asserted that they could be reduced to 12, six in metropolitan Melbourne, and six in regional areas.

The North West Star article, headed “’Grave concern’: regional hospitals brace for amalgamation mandate”, appeared on Tuesday April 23, 2024.

It indicated that “under the scenario where Victoria’s 76 health services merge to become just 12, regional Victoria would be divided into six sub-regions” and that “Gippsland would fuse into a single entity”.

Gippsland currently has 11 separate health services in operation, including South Gippsland Hospital in Foster, along with its immediate neighbours; Bass Coast Health Service at Wonthaggi, Gippsland Southern Health Service in Leongatha and Korumburra, Yarram and District Health Service, and Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon.

South Gippsland Hospital won the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Best Small Health Service Award and was runner-up in 2022.

The Mirror asked South Gippsland Hospital CEO, Paul Greenhalgh, for a comment on the Victorian Government’s health services review and the chance of amalgamation late last week.

“That’s certainly on the table,” he said.

“In terms of background, the State Government acknowledges that Victoria has a world-class public health system, yet they know people have different access to and experiences of care, depending on where they live, particularly those in rural and regional areas.

“The structure of the Victorian health services system has been largely unchanged for decades, despite changing population needs and new innovations,” Mr Greenhalgh said.

“With this in mind, the Victorian Department of Health has established a process to develop a draft Health Services Plan to consider the optimal design and governance of the public health services system – looking at how public health services can better work together to deliver improved care for all Victorians. 

“The vision is for Victoria to have a joined-up system that is easier for patients to navigate, provides them with better outcomes, and supports the workforce,” he said.

 ”An external Expert Advisory Committee (EAC), that was formed about six months ago, has led the development of the draft Health Services Plan in collaboration with the health sector, and with the support of the Department of Health.”

The Mirror understands that the EAC is claimed to be independent from government.

 ”Some of the main issues said to be raised with the EAC included inequities in patient experience and difficulties accessing care, workforce attraction and retention, and resourcing inefficiencies,” Mr Greenhalgh said.

“The EAC has tried to capture the views and ideas from every health service in the State, and what has been said to them is reflected through the consultation process and in the final report to be taken to the Minister for Health.

“The EAC has also taken advice from other jurisdictions as well as from national and international health system experts, I am told.

“Currently there are two options being considered – a strengthened partnership model, and consolidation,” he said.

 ”The option of consolidation of the present 11 Health Services in this region into one Gippsland Health Service is daunting and I am sure this news is distressing for staff and community members. 

“In recent weeks I have communicated the possibilities with our staff, and our leadership team has met in a facilitated workshop to take a deep dive into change management models to help us all be best placed for whatever decision is made.

“The South Gippsland Hospital Board members have been very clear on their position to the EAC, opposing amalgamation,” Mr Greenhalgh said.

“We know that aspects of the issues the EAC are trying to address are not apparent at South Gippsland Hospital as an individual service. It is the system that is being reviewed.

“We have an impeccable performance record, over many years, providing clinically safe and highly professional quality acute and community care, by a well-equipped and engaged workforce that is overseen by a highly skilled Board,” he said.

  ”We have been assured by the Minister for Health that no decisions have been made until Government has considered the EAC’s report, which is due any day now.”

The Mirror posed the obvious question, namely, what will the potential findings of the report mean for South Gippsland Hospital?

“It’s too early to tell exactly what it means for us and all I can say is that South Gippsland Hospital will still be here for the community and will play an important role in the future of Victoria’s health system,” Mr Greenhalgh said.

“Although, regrettably, I may not be here as a CEO.”

“Objective is … to improve quality and access

The Victorian Department of Health states that “the objective of the Health Services Plan is to improve equity and access to healthcare for Victorians.

“It will outline how the public health service system will provide improved continuity of care, access to services and better outcomes for people living across Victoria,” the statement on the State Government’s Engage Victoria website continues.

“It will also build on the strengths of existing public health services.”


Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said that “the prospect of a merger of all Gippsland health services into one mega-hospital [service] would be disastrous for our small rural communities like Foster.

“South Gippsland Hospital is a model for how rural health should operate, with ongoing maternity and theatre services, coupled with excellent ties to the local GP clinic and aged care facility,” he said.

“Any argument that merging these rural hospitals with much bigger ones will be good for places like Foster and the Corner Inlet district is false. It will only lead to reduction of services for local communities and I will strongly oppose that,” Mr O’Brien said.

“These plans are further evidence that [the current Victorian Government] can’t manage money and it will be the community that suffers,” he said.

“If the government heads down this path it can expect a fight from Gippslanders and a big fight from me.”


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