The state opposition has lashed out at Local Health District plans to close the children’s ward at Murwillumbah Hospital, after LHD head Chris Crawford flagged the plan in a consultation paper yesterday.
And a local doctor has joined the chorus of disbelief and disapproval, saying the LHD’s proposed alternative is not medically appropriate.
Mr Crawford said that improved medicines and vaccines, together with a new paediatrics room attached to the hospital’s emergency department, had seen steadily dropping admissions to the children’s ward.
‘With new drugs, immunisation and new techniques for treating children… a lot fewer children are now being admitted to hospital,’ Mr Crawford told APN Media yesterday.
‘You can deal with childhood illnesses at home through use of drugs, or though a short attendance at emergency departments or going to your local GP,’ he added.
But Mr Crawford admitted that there is only room for one child in the paediatrics room, adding other children could be treated in the emergency department.
The plan has drawn the ire of the shadow minister for the north coast, Walt Secord, and Labor’s candidate for Tweed, Ron Goodman.
In upper house question time yesterday Mr Secord asked the leader of government in the Legislative Council, Michael Gallacher, ‘in light of the $3 billion in cuts to health in NSW, will you confirm that the Northern NSW Health District this morning met with staff and announced that they had plans to close the children’s ward at Murwillumbah Hospital?’
Mr Secord told ABC radio this morning that when he raised the issue, ‘parliamentary secretary Melinda Pavey heckled and shouted… but at no point did anybody defend or even argue the point for the hospital’.
He said in a media release, ‘this is what happens when a state government rips $3 billion out of the health system: they close medical wards’.
Murwillumbah doctor Doug Warne said this morning that the real reason that numbers were dropping was that the pediatric nurses employed to look after children on the ward were reassigned during quiet times, meaning that when children needed to be admitted at short notice there was no on to look after them.
‘At the moment there is a pediatric nurse that needs to be available and is paid to be on call to cover the ward,’ he told ABC radio.
‘What’s happened recently is that nurse has been asked to work in adult sections of the ward and on surgical wards. Because they want to save money by doing that, when we try to admit a child we’re told “no, the nurse is working in surgical ward and we can’t remove her from there”.’
Dr Warne said doctors were called to a meeting to discuss the issue with health district bureaucrats ‘at two days’ notice’ and were only given copies of the planning paper at the meeting ‘despite requesting to see it beforehand’.
He added that the busy doctors were given just two weeks to respond to the proposal, which they must do by this coming Friday.
Dr Warne said half a million dollars had been donated to the ward by the community over the years, making it into ‘a better facility than the children’s ward at Tweed Hospital’.
He said the planning paper ‘didn’t even have those figures [of declining admissions] in it, so it wasn’t particularly impressive’.
‘To close the ward for the very small amounts of money they’re proposing to save really doesn’t make any sense, he said.
He added that the ‘pediatric room’ in the hospital’s emergency department was inadequate and an unsuitable environment for children.
‘It’s an outlandish suggestion. It’s really just hanging a few mobiles above a bed. At the moment our ED has the ability to monitor a child for four hours or so to see if they stabilise… and this is all that they’re proposing.
‘The emergency department at Murwillumbah and the director at Tweed have dismissed that proposal out of hand. They’re not trained to admit and look after sick children, they’re trained to assess and undertake interventions to make them better over a short period.’
‘And it’s a very inappropriate place for a young person to be, in an emergency department with potentially violent things, drunken things, lots of adults,’ he said.
Labor’s candidate for Tweed, Ron Goodman described plan to close the ward as ‘a vile betrayal of the families of the Tweed region’.
‘On the heels of Geoff Provest’s plan to charge for parking at Tweed Hospital, now children from Murwillumbah and surrounds will be forced to travel to Tweed Hospital for treatment.
‘This will put more pressure on Tweed Hospital and particularly on the families who will need to travel further for treatment for their children.
‘On top of that, if Mr Provest gets his way they will pay Sydney-style private carpark fees when they get there.’
Mr Goodman called on Mr Provest and his National Party colleagues to honour the promise he made in 2008 in front of thousands of people rallying to support Murwillumbah Hospital.