Kathleen Murray

Efforts to shine a spotlight on the community campaign to upgrade the aging Daylesford Hospital recently captured the attention of Premier, Daniel Andrews.

When asked by journalists at a recent visit to Ballarat Base Hospital, the Premier refused to commit to his Government funding the Daylesford Hospital upgrade in the seat held by his Minister for Health, Mary-Anne Thomas. Despite acknowledging the health pressures regional and rural hospitals are facing, he failed to commit to a solution, deflecting instead to the pool of money the Daylesford Hospital can apply for via the State’s Regional Health Infrastructure Fund (RHIF).

The 2022/23 State Budget provided $300M to the RHIF. To date there has been no draw down on those funds to support the recently completed Master Plan for the Daylesford Hospital that has an estimated building cost of $75M.

A local grassroots community campaign to get an upgrade pledge from both major parties for the no longer fit for purpose Daylesford Hospital commenced a year ago.

In late 2021 the campaign raised $100,000 from the community in less than eight weeks to fund development of a Masterplan. Central Highlands Rural Health presented the Masterplan to the community earlier this year.

It has been over 20 years since last the major upgrade for the Hospital. The Andrews Government made a $4.5 million allocation in late 2021 to upgrade the hospital’s operating theatre (separate to the Masterplan process). This represents just 6% of the estimated $75 million needed to fully fund the project.

Daylesford Hospital Upgrade Appeal Committee Chair, Cr Lesley Hewitt says locals are increasingly frustrated by the lack of adequate hospital funding support. “Labor has been governing for 16 of the last 20 years since the last major upgrade and it’s time to properly invest in the health our communities,” she said. “Despite being a tourism hot spot, our hospital buildings are languishing and locals and tourists are at risk of missing out on care in the future. It’s just not good enough.”

The Daylesford Hospital has users straddling the electorates of both Macedon and Ripon. Macedon is held as a safe Labor seat by the new Minister for Health, Mary-Anne Thomas. Ripon is held by Liberal MP, Louise Staley, by a margin of only a handful of votes in the 2018 election.

Members of the Daylesford Hospital Upgrade Appeal Committee met this week with Georgie Crozier MP, the Liberal spokesperson for Health, seeking the Liberal Party’s support.

The Liberal Party has recently made several funding pledges for hospital upgrades and new builds across Victoria if it forms government at the November state election.

“We challenged Ms Crozier on the Liberal Party’s campaign theme – ‘Fixing the statewide health crisis’ – to prove that it’s serious about equal health access for all Victorians and to plug a serious hole, by pledging to fund our hospital in the seat held by the Minister for Health,” said Lesley Hewitt. “Access to health shouldn’t be a function of postcode or a partisan political issue. We’re missing out. Many locals I speak to about this are very frustrated with the perceived city-centred focus of the current Government and will vote accordingly. The money is sitting in the RHIF. The Master Plan blueprint is complete. We just need the Minister for Health to deliver locally, rather than focussing on regional or large city hospitals.”

The committee is urging locals to continue letting politicians know, before the November election, that they deserve an upgrade to the Daylesford Hospital by contacting them directly.

Central Highlands Rural Health is holding a Master Plan Community Forum that all interested members of the public are welcome to attend on 28th August from 2.30 – 4 pm at the Daylesford Town Hall. Locals can ask questions anonymously or email to Kathryn Kosloff, CHRH Fundraising Manager. If you wish to attend the forum, please indicate your intention to attend by email or by completing this form.

Kathleen Murray is a member of the DHUA Committee and local resident concerned about equitable access to healthcare.