Another state MP has weighed into the Mullumbimby Hospital debate, saying the coalition government’s ‘cost-cutting crusade has reached a new and dangerous low’ with the proposed axing of the overnight emergency doctor.
And the Rural Doctors Association of Australia has also slammed the plan, saying it fails to take into account patients’ needs and the times when doctors were most in demand.
Greens MP John Kaye yesterday said that despite ‘strong public outrage’, NSW health minister Jillian Skinner was ‘withdrawing a service that has the potential to determine life or death’.
‘Using the excuse of staff shortages, the health minister has made a mean and nasty cost-cutting decision to remove a vital service from a small community,’ Dr Kaye said.
Opposition leader John Robertson last month raised the issue in parliament, asking the minister when she had made the decision to replace the emergency overnight doctor at Mullumbimby Hospital with video conferencing ‘against the wishes of local nurses and the local community?’
The groundswell against the unpopular move will be in sharp focus again next Thursday 2 August, when local health district chief executive Chris Crawford attends the third public protest meeting held on the issue.
It’s all spin
Dr Kaye said Mr Crawford was ‘just hiding behind spin’. This is simply part of the O’Farrell government’s cost-cutting crusade, which is now putting human lives at risk.
‘Three weeks into the cut and one man has already suffered a very close call due to the lack of an emergency doctor. Ms Skinner needs to put down her budget papers and start listening to the community.
‘Every community deserves to have appropriate services they know they can rely on in times of emergency. Peace of mind for Mullumbimby residents has been sacrificed to penny-pinching.
‘Local MP Don Page can’t sit on his hands on this issue. He owes it to his constituents to stand up to his cabinet colleagues.
‘The Greens welcome the community meeting in August. We urge the government to take this opportunity to listen to the pleas of concerned health professionals and residents.’
Rural Doctors Association of Australia spokesperson Dr Paul Mara told media the scheme failed to take into account patients’ needs and the times when doctors were most in demand.
‘After 9pm is when most of the urgent or acute patients arrive because overnight people don’t go to a hospital unless they really need it; this is a time we would think a doctor should be available. We don’t think that consulting with a patient via a video link is as good as face-to-face consultation,’ Dr Mara said.
NSW Labor MP Walt Secord said replacing overnight doctors with video-conferencing was outrageous.
‘This is totally unacceptable. A parent with a sick child or people injured in a car accident through the night should know if rushed to Mullumbimby Hospital they will be seen by a doctor, not a Skype camera,’ he said.
Mr Crawford recently told a Sydney newspaper that it was hard to find doctors to work the overnight shift at the hospital, which averaged two patients a night, and the district had been forced to hire expensive locums to replace visiting doctors who had retired.
Dr Kaye said if the position were not reinstated, the Greens would call on the Upper House to condemn ‘this government’s failure to protect lives in the north coast’.
The 2 August public meeting will be held at Mullumbimby High School hall at 7pm.
Hundreds of locals have attended the past two meetings where nurses and doctors said the video-link replacement of the overnight doctor amounted to the downgrade of medical services at the hospital by stealth, place extra strain on nurses and undermine patient safety.
Mr Crawford will be available to answers questions at the meeting, organised by the Save Mullum Hospital steering committee.
Mullumbimby Hospital will be the first to have its overnight roster axed as part of the state government’s Connecting Critical Care trial.