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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Nurses vow to fight hospital cuts

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Luis Feliu

The public campaign to retain 24-hour emergency medical services, including an overnight doctor at Mullumbimby Hospital, has been ramped up as the local health authority continues its push to implement the controversial plan.

A second public meeting to protest the cost-cutting move will go ahead on Monday 18 June, at the Mullumbimby Civic Centre at 7pm, and a steering committee involving local nurses, doctors and the public to co-ordinate the campaign has been formed.

But the introduction of the proposed ‘trial’ to replace the hospital’s emergency overnight doctor with a telemedicine video-conferencing link to Tweed Hospital operated by a nurse has now been pushed back from 1 July to late October.

The delay in the start of the new rostering and system, called the ‘Connecting Critical Care System’, follows a meeting last week between nurses and Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) chief executive Chris Crawford.

Mr Crawford said it was agreed at the meeting that ‘a couple of months should be allowed for the nurses to get used to the system with a medical officer rostered to provide onsite support to the emergency department at night’.

He said nurses would also be provided with copies of policies and protocols used at other regional hospitals where there was no onsite medical officer (doctor) to support the nurses, as well as more data about other regional NSW hospitals where ‘nurses receive telemedicine or just telephone support from a medical officer based at another site, which can occur over a whole weekend or in some cases, for a period of several weeks’.

Mr Crawford said it was also agreed to hold a further meeting with the Mullumbimby nursing staff after the new system had been in use for around two months and nurses had considered the extra information to see if their concerns had been addressed.

But NSW Nurses Association’s delegate at the hospital, Shauna Boyle, told Echonetdaily that despite Mr Crawford ‘listening’ to their concerns, he was ‘intent on pushing ahead with the trial’.

Ms Boyle said doctors and nurses feared once the trial began, there was ‘no going back’ and the hospital would be without an overnight emergency doctor.

‘Nurses are wary that they’re not pushed into a position where they feel they’re unsupported, and though they are experienced in medical care, they don’t feel comfortable put in a position outside their stated role.

‘This new system changes the whole health-care delivery model of nurses working in emergency services. We don’t know what problems we’ll have; it could put them in a quite dangerous position.

‘There’s a lot of issues we still have concerns over and have to deal with, such as the legal responsibility of nurses put in that role, the reliability on the telemedicine system based on the internet, especially when you take a doctor out of the equation and only have a nurse onsite.

‘They could make nurses practitioners for the new role and pay them accordingly, but that hasn’t even been considered, and the health service seems to have a different idea of what constitutes consultation with a community.

‘It’s important for the community to reaffirm that they are committed to keeping 24-hour medical services at the hospital with a doctor available at night.’

Ms Boyle said Mr Crawford rejected an invitation to address next Monday’s public meeting ‘so he could answers questions people are asking’.

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