Health- Doctors fear job and service cuts
Doctors are increasingly concerned about a proposed merger of two major hospital networks in Melbourne's north, with speculation that it could occur as early as next month.
Senior doctors at the Northern Hospital say Health Minister David Davis is aggressively pursuing a merger of Austin and Northern Health, despite denying publicly that any decision has been made.
They say a merger could occur as early as July when the terms of a number of board members at both health networks are due to expire.
In a briefing document obtained by Fairfax, Northern Health senior medical staff reiterated their strong opposition to a merger, which they said would lead to job and service cuts.
The doctors said "back-of-house" services such as payroll were likely to be merged first and clinical areas would follow so that some services were only provided at one site. This was despite Northern Health serving one of Australia's fastest-growing regions, one with high levels of disadvantage, including increasing numbers of migrants and refugees.
Doctors said there was no direct public transport linking the Northern Hospital in Epping and the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg, with the two sites 22 kilometres and at least 35 minutes' drive apart.
Specific concerns included delays in pathology testing, and patients being sent to Heidelberg for renal and cardiology services and cancer treatment.
There is also talk that paediatric surgery would no longer be done at the Austin, with patients sent instead to the Northern Hospital.
An Austin Hospital source said he believed this was unlikely due to an expected community backlash and safety concerns. "If you had a kid with a ruptured appendix, you'd have to justify putting him in an ambulance and sending him half an hour away," the source said.
Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said services were stretched at both the Austin and Northern hospitals and huge investment was required, particularly to meet "astronomical" growth in demand at the Northern Hospital. "If this is happening, the government should come clean on it and allow clinicians and the community to have a say. If it's not happening, they should clear it up to stop this high level of anxiety."
A spokeswoman for Mr Davis denied on Sunday that the government had appointed consultants to assess merger options. Mr Davis has previously said he is meeting with health services to discuss "opportunities for collaboration and integration of services".
Headline: Hospital merger plan raises concerns
Author: Kate Hagan Health Reporter