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Byron Shire
March 3, 2021

Plan to close children’s ward of Murwillumbah Hospital

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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’.

Doctor opposed

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.

‘Vile betrayal’

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.

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  1. Despite the Echo having limited resources to research stories, it would be informative to the community to find out why the Kids Ward is set to close. Some basic facts such as Murwillumbah Hospital not having any specialised medical support for many, many years is the first fact that the community needs to be informed of. Paediatricians have not serviced the Kids Ward for over a decade with medical treatment being supplied by the local GPs. It’s not for me to question the quality of the treatment provided by the GPs, but I know that if my kids were sick I would want them taken care of by someone that devotes their working life to the care of kids. So by traveling less than 30 minutes further up the road you are getting specialist care with a quality support network of Paediatricians and their Registrars. Unfortunately at Murwillumbah the wards are covered part-time by the local and very busy GPs. A further fact is that the Kids Ward at Murwillumbah has only ever 1 or 2 kids in it with many times no kids in the ward. As anyone would appreciate it is a disgusting waste of taxpayers money keeping the Kids Ward staffed by nurses when there are no or few kids in the ward. Further, it should be noted that the Kids Ward at Tweed is rarely full. So with all the politicians putting their 20 cents worth in, it would definitely benefit our community if they focused on improving the quality of care in our region and not to lead the media on an ill-informed witch hunt.

  2. Peter, to say that the childrens ward only ever has one or two kids is not factual at all. During peak times, when seasonal illnesses increase (such as asthma, bronchiolitis and pneumonia), and when the services were being utilised properly (ie when children weren’t automatically being sent to tweed from murwillumbah emergency under the belief that the paediatric nurse was unavailable) all five beds could be full. These admissions would be of a certain category that means they can be managed by the services provided by the staff and faciliites at Murwillumbah. Of course more serious cases should and were always sent to tweed for assessment by the paediatric team. These paients that would otherwise have been admitted to Murwillumbah will now be waiting a long time to be seen in Tweed ED. I myself have sat for extended periods in Tweed ED both waiting to be seen and waiting for a bed on the paediatric ward, it is not an experience any child should have to go through and it does have lasting behavioural effects.. and what of the siblings at home? Who gets them to and from school while dad works and mum is up at Tweed?
    Do you know how many families there are in Murwilllumbah? Why doesn’t murwillumbah have specialist paediatric cover from Tweed, there are supposed to be the one hospital, and as you say its only 30 minutes, why can’t the paediatrician do a round down here (at Murwillumbah) on the low care ward? Because that would mean admitting that it was a viable ward.
    The paediatric nurses at murwillumbah aren’t/weren’t just sitting around in an empty ward wasting tax payers’ money, they were actually being utilised on other wards, of course this is to be expected, unfortunately they were being utilised in such a way that they were unable to be released when children did present to ED. The specialist paediatric skills of the nurses are being wasted. They could have been utilised at the tweed paediatric ward until a patient presented to Murwillumbah (its only 30 minutes right?) but they wouldn’t do that either.
    The specialist paediatric bed in emergency is no specialist bed at all, and is no place for children. The ED doctors employed there don’t have specialist paediatric skills, you’re right, but why don’t they? It’s so they have to transfer patients they are unsure of (most of them) up to Tweed, so Murwillumbah looks more and more like its not viable.


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