The state coalition government has come under fire over its controversial decision to replace Mullumbimby Hospital’s overnight emergency doctor with video-conferencing after the issue was raised in parliament yesterday.
NSW Opposition leader John Robertson, in the first question without notice in the NSW Legislative Assembly yesterday, asked health minister Jillian Skinner when the government had made the decision to replace the overnight doctor ‘against the wishes of local nurses and the local community?’
Mrs Skinner replied that the hospital and many others in country areas suffered from a shortage of doctors and the government was trying to attract more to rural areas through training and infrastructure-investment measures.
She blamed a ‘lack of foresight’ by the former Labor government in recruiting doctors and said ’16 years of neglect has led to a long-term problem, which this government has inherited’.
The minister said there ‘has been an average of two patients per night, at the most, with the lowest acuity at Mullumbimby Hospital.
‘We are going to provide the hospital with a virtual emergency department by connecting it, through eHealth, to the Tweed Hospital emergency department through the Connecting Critical Care system, with a career medical officer at Byron Hospital on the night shift being considered.
‘I am very pleased to support this innovation of the local health district, supported by many of the people in the local area,’ Ms Skinner said.
‘The people of Mullumbimby and the patients, two, on average, who go to Mullumbimby Hospital each night will be very well served by this innovation, which addresses a longstanding problem, a problem neglected by Labor for years and years.’
But Labor’s spokesman for the Tweed, MLC Walt Secord, said it was ‘mind boggling’ that Mrs Skinner stood by her decision to replace the overnight doctor in the hospital with video conferencing.
‘This is totally unacceptable. The O’Farrell government promised to support rural and regional hospitals. This is another broken promise,’ Mr Secord said.
He said the issue was ‘so outrageous’ that Mr Robertson raised it as the first item in Question Time yesterday.
‘I am absolutely shocked that Mrs Skinner would hide behind the claim that few patients visit the emergency ward. She is completely out of touch. A parent with a sick child or a person injured at night needs to have the security of knowing that if they are rushed to Mullumbimby Hospital, there will be a doctor there, not a video camera or Skype.
‘This is a just another example of the cuts that the O’Farrell Government is making as a result of the June 2012 Budget. Their cuts are hurting real families.
‘Mrs Skinner must listen to local doctors and nurses; they are on the frontline. They need her support so do the families on the north coast – and they need their overnight doctor,’ Mr Secord said.