Surgeons operating in Horsham and Stawell have helped to reduce the planned surgery waiting lists at Ballarat by redirecting Wimmera-based patients.

The collaborative effort between Grampians Health surgeons and theatre teams guided by the Grampians Regional Health Service Partnership has ensured 15 Horsham-based patients on wait lists have had their surgeries at their own hospital while 17 local patients have been operated on at Stawell.

Grampians Regional Health Service Partnership’s manager of the Patient Support Unit in Elective Surgery Reform Tristia Lakey said the move had freed up waiting lists at Ballarat and provided a great outcome for Wimmera patients.

“These patients were on really long wait lists with some waiting more than 500 days while one in particular had been waiting 1500 days and another 1300 days,” Ms Lakey said.

“They were patients whose surgeries were listed for Ballarat before it was identified that they could just as easily be performed locally.

“The theatre teams and surgeons at Horsham and Stawell should be commended for the work they have done in getting these lists reduced and providing the best outcome for those patients.”

Grampians Health Horsham surgeon James Gallagher said when he arrived as a locum in 2021 there was a backlog of patients waiting to see specialists.

“Nikky Campbell had gone on maternity leave at the time so it was just Ya’acov Leigh and myself operating and it was a difficult time working through COVID,” Dr Gallagher said.

“Now that Nikky is back and I am now a full time Grampians Health employee, the three of us have been able to work through the lists to the point where delays are minimal.”

Dr Gallagher said there had been a perceived lack of access to colonoscopies in rural areas compared to metropolitan which was not correct.

“Procedures such as colonoscopies are considered category one which means they must be performed within four to six weeks and we are comfortably meeting that target.”

Dr Gallagher said the reasons Wimmera people were placed on surgical lists in Ballarat or beyond were multi-faceted.

“We looked at those lists to identify people who should have been sent to Horsham or Stawell and found one of the main reasons had been around anaesthetic support because of a patient’s excessive body mass index or age,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there is another group of people who don’t want to be operated on locally because they’ve heard of a rumoured bad experience.

“The fact is our complication rate here is extremely low and when there is a complication, it’s usually a perfectly acceptable one because of the patient’s pathology but stories told in supermarket carparks are unfortunately taken too literally.”

Dr Gallagher said the surgical team at Horsham deserved high praise for their work. He was a specialist surgeon in Sydney for the majority of his career when COVID restrictions drew a halt to his practice and he chose to travel the country as a locum performing general surgeries.

“I had been travelling to wherever there was work and when the Victorian Premier closed the borders, I was working in the south west and couldn’t get home to Sydney so I continued working in virtually every corner of Victoria,” he said.

“One of my forays was to Horsham and while working here I was particularly impressed with the level of skill of the theatre team and the working environment. So, when a full-time role was made available I applied and got the job.

“The theatre staff here are fantastic. Some of them are here because their farms or families are here yet they could easily work in any major hospital in Australia. We are very lucky to have them and the same can be said about the nurses in the wards.

“Having worked as a locum in different regional hospitals, you get a clear impression of how things are handled in different places and I can tell you the Wimmera community is very lucky to have our quality of nursing and allied health services.

“We have managed to get through a power of work here as the result of a team effort and now we have regained our status as a teaching hospital.

“We’ve got our accredited registrar back and because we are able to offer a higher level of training for doctors now, the opportunities of attracting them to work in our region are much greater and hopefully that will lead to longer term consultants.

“We are here offering a great service with a quality team and local people should be taking advantage of that.”

Dr Gallagher lives in Horsham and travels to Stawell fortnightly as part of a 12-strong team of visiting surgeons with another highly qualified support team that worked through 160 operations there in the past month.

The GRHSP is supporting the region’s hospitals through elective surgery reforms. Its priorities include same day surgical model maximisation, consolidation of care, health service partnership patient streaming, development of a regional waitlist and overview of non-surgical management pathways.

GRHSP has also developed the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery program to reduce the average length of post-surgery stays in hospitals.

Grampians Health chief operating officer/hospitals Ben Kelly said his organisation had supported same day surgeries maximisation with recruitments to various surgical positions.

“We have recruited for a same day surgical model lead, a regional surgical navigator, a surgical optimisation lead, changing redesign manager and East and West implementation leads,” Mr Kelly said.

“Our workforce expansion also includes supporting the regional workforce with additional training and placement for nurses to come and do surgical and post-operative training.”

Horsham surgery

Surgeon James Gallagher and theatre Assistant Nursing
Unit Manager Leanne Schwarz