Luis Feliu & Hans Lovejoy
NSW ministers are backing top health bureaucrat Chris Crawford’s controversial decision to trial new telemedicine technology at Mullumbimby Hospital, which would eventually replace its emergency overnight doctor.
Despite the uproar it has caused within the community, local member for Ballina, Don Page, told Echonetdaily, ‘Of course I don’t want to see any reduction in services and generally this has not occurred. However, the health administrators have to make decisions from time to time in relation to service delivery, which can impact on some local communities’. Mr Page also referred to the proposed 54-bed hospital at Ewingsdale, which is still on the drawing board. ‘It’s a good example of why we need a bigger central hospital where more services would be offered and such issues wouldn’t arise.’ No start date or final plans for the hospital have been announced by his government.
Fellow minister for health and medical research Jillian Skinner also hosed down public concerns of diminished services by telling Echonetdaily, ‘It is this kind of innovative solution, developed locally and currently being trialled, which could potentially better service local communities’.
But Ms Skinner, along with Mr Crawford, still won’t be drawn into answering specific questions raised by hospital staff, who say the new system would not be cost efficient as claimed because the cost of transfers of patients to other hospitals would negate any expected savings from the budget measure.
Byron Shire Council supports community campaign
In contrast, Byron Shire Council is backing the community campaign fighting the proposed downgrade of the hospital’s 24-hour medical services. They also called for the Northern NSW Local Health District to consult with the community on the issue and decided to waive the hire fee for use of the Mullumbimby Civic Centre for the second public protest meeting to be held there tonight.
Both federal MPs Justine Elliott and Janelle Saffin have already come out in support of the community campaign, with Ms Elliott describing any moves to downgrade services at Mullumbimby as ‘heartless’ and Ms Saffin addressing a recent protest rally.
Ms Skinner also declined to comment on the numerous demonstrations over health cuts in nearby Coraki and Bonalbo hospitals, and the recent coroner’s report that said Lismore Base Hospital is ‘incapable of providing emergency care for the region’. The report came after the death of a man who suffered a stroke while waiting for a doctor at the hospital last year.
Instead, Ms Skinner spruiked the $18.3 billion NSW health budget, claiming ‘a total of $1.2 billion will be spent on expanding and renovating hospitals around the state this year’.
‘This investment in public health will provide for an extra 50,000 emergency department presentations, 30,000 additional acute inpatient services including 2,000 more elective surgery procedures, and improved intensive care services.
‘In the 2012/13 budget the NSW government has committed to a capital works program of $4.7 billion over four years.’
She claims northern NSW will ‘benefit from the… $80 million in Commonwealth and NSW government funding for a major upgrade to Lismore Base Hospital… and $3.9 million to continue the planning process for the Northern NSW Regional Plan including Lismore and Byron Bay hospitals.’ She says details of specific funding allocations for local health districts will be released in the coming weeks.