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Merge mystery

Friday, 5th September, 2008

While the Greater Western Area Health Service prepares for another merger, questions remain as to whether the last one was worthwhile.

The health service (GWAHS) was formed in 2004 in a merger that included the Far West Area Health Service. A promised report on the benefits of that merger has yet to be seen.

Fears that the centralisation would lessen local involvement and degrade the city's services were answered with promises that money would be saved through reduced administration costs and channeled into an increase in frontline clinical services.

Four years later, it is still hard to get an answer to whether those benefits have been received and what they are.

While there is evidence of improvement, requests for a substantial list of new "frontline" services and a figure on the money saved has never materialised.

Wednesday night's monthly meeting of Council considered a new merger proposal from GWAHS, in which the current six "clusters" - areas of local management - would be reduced to four. Council acknowledged that the new merger would have not much impact on Broken Hill, as the remote cluster in which it resides will be unchanged.

But Administrator Ken Boyle said Council would request an update on GWAHS' progress on cost savings and the Sinclair Report.

"We are yet to receive detailed reports on outcomes. This is a worthwhile issue to follow-up," he said.

At the meeting's close, Fran McKinnon addressed Council from the public gallery. Mrs McKinnon is a member of the Health Advisory Council and wished Council luck in getting the information.

"We've been trying to get the May 2004 audit for benchmarking purposes for four years now. We were promised it and we still don't have it," she said.

"We've tried, and we're getting nowhere. Good luck."

"We were told by (GWAHS Chief Executive Dr Claire Blizzard) that the last Sinclair Report has been done and is sitting on the Minister's desk.

"I know we've picked up a couple of positions, but we've lost 20-odd (from the hospital)."

Following the meeting, Mr Boyle said the situation was concerning for Council.

"Particularly if there are to be more restructures without the full information available," he said.

"Whether it's on the minister's desk or not, the community deserved to be fully informed."

Dr Blizard released the following statement yesterday in response to these concerns:

"A review commissioned by the NSW Government following the amalgamation of Area Health Services almost four years ago has been completed.

"The public release of the review is at the discretion of the Health Minister's office.

"The review confirms there has been savings made from the creation of Greater Western Area Health Service.

"The savings have been reinvested back into services at Broken Hill."

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