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Modbury backflip looms for Labor as Libs splash cash

Politics

The Weatherill Government is poised to scale back more key elements of its controversial Transforming Health regime, as the Opposition today ramped up the pressure with a $20 million commitment to restore “critical services” at Modbury Hospital.

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Significantly, the Liberals have vowed to restore a High Dependency Unit at the north-east health hub – a key demand of maverick independent Frances Bedford, who quit the Labor Party in March after then Health Minister Jack Snelling rolled her for preselection in her safe seat of Florey.

But after Snelling’s sudden resignation this week, Premier Jay Weatherill has tried to persuade Bedford to re-join the ALP to run as its candidate, in a bid to scuttle a likely bid by her to snare the seat as an independent.

She has previously made it clear that she would not deal with the Government without the restoration of the closed high dependency unit – among other Modbury upgrades – and a commitment to internal party reform, although she told InDaily earlier this week that if she did run again in Florey, it would only be as an independent.

However, further discussions have taken place with Weatherill since then.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall said today that if elected, his government would “establish a four bed High Dependency Unit at Modbury to enable the return of more complex surgical cases to the downgraded hospital”.

“We’ve seen vital services downgraded to the point where locals are completely and utterly dissatisfied,” he told reporters, insisting the changes would “support clinicians to undertake emergency surgery”, which is currently hived off to major neighbouring facilities, and “increase the complexity of surgical services offered”.

Modbury Hospital.

“I am determined that Modbury Hospital is properly supported to be the primary hospital for the local community,” Marshall said.

The move piles political pressure on Weatherill to act on the facility, which services locals in a suite of marginal Labor seats, including Tom Kenyon’s Newland, which has become nominally Liberal under the recent redistribution.

Asked by InDaily today whether he remained adamant there would be no change to services at Modbury, Weatherill said: “As for services at Modbury, we are always considering ways to improve services in our public hospitals.”

At a separate media conference this morning, he denied he had a press conference planned for later in the week to announce a major backflip at Modbury.

However, he conceded: “We continue to be open to providing changes to the services there.”

Weatherill said the Government had fielded “representations” on the matter from candidates and MPs, including Kenyon, noting: “We’re always to prepared to entertain representations.”

“We’re always evaluating our services [and] we’re always willing to make accommodations and changes to services where it’s appropriate,” he said.

Kenyon told InDaily today: “I continue to work with the Government to get the best result for Modbury Hospital – and I’ll continue to do that.”

Bedford said ahead of today’s Liberal media conference that “any announcement about any funding for Modbury Hospital is always welcome”.

If Labor does revisit its plans for Modbury, it would be the latest in a string on eleventh-hour rollbacks of key elements of Transforming Health, most notably a $250 million backflip on plans to shift cardiology services from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – a move insiders say rankled with Snelling.

But Weatherill denied that, telling InDaily: “Minister Snelling agreed with the changes to cardiology services at the QEH and brought them to cabinet”.

The Premier said today his negotiations with Bedford were not “to get her back into the tent”.

“She will continue to advocate on behalf of her community and those matters will be considered on their merits, separate to any considerations about her future intentions in Florey,” he said.

Marshall told reporters the Liberals had been “out talking to the people in the community [and] listening to the clinicians”.

He said the funding commitment for the changes – $20 million over four years – would be included in a fully-costed pre-election audit, but “we don’t see this as a cost, we see it as an investment”.

“Frances Bedford has been keen to put services back in place on this site, but she’s made no progress whatsoever with Labor,” he said.

“It’s only a Liberal Government which is going to restore the high dependency unit.”

A spokeswoman for new Health Minister Peter Malinauskas did not respond to questions about his plans for Modbury, instead deferring to the Premier’s comments. However, she noted that the Premier and Minister were on the same page with their plans.

A cabinet meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

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