NSW health minister Jillian Skinner and north coast National Party MPs have been called on to give a written guarantee that the government will keep Murwillumbah Hospital’s children’s ward open.
This follows an apparent backflip by the state government on its controversial proposal to close the ward, announcing at the weekend the plan had been put on hold for further consultation with doctors.
But the so-called ‘pause’ on the closure has been dismissed by the state opposition as a ploy to win favour for next year’s election.
Labor’s shadow minister for the north coast Walt Secord warned the community ‘to be aware of National Party “tricks” to get them through next year’s state election’.
APN Media reported that the closure of the ward was off the table for the time being following a meeting on Wednesday between local doctors and health bureaucrats.
The report said the Northern NSW Local Health District Board (LHDB) and local doctors had resolved to conduct further discussions and community consultation over the future of the ward.
According to APN Media, LHDB chair Dr Brian Pezzutti said the board had requested further consultation to review the paediatrics model of care at the ward.
Dr Pezutti, a former Liberal Party MLC, said two local board members, David Frazer and Mark Humphries, would lead the consultation process involving meetings with hospital clinicians and the community.
The LHDB late last month announced that a decision on the ward’s future would be made within weeks, after giving locals a fortnight to respond to a position paper proposing the closure, citing declined usage as one of the reasons.
At the time, Member for Lismore Thomas George, whose electorate takes in Murwillumbah, promised to lobby the health minister to keep the ward open.
But Mr Secord is not convinced, saying Mrs Skinner and the local National Party MPs ‘must give a written guarantee that they will keep the children’s ward open after the March 2015 election’.
‘The closure plan is still alive. They have just pushed the pause button,’ he said.
Labor candidate for Tweed Ron Goodman said ‘a vague promise 11 months out from a state election is hollow’.
‘Only a public statement by the health minister Jillian Skinner will re-assure North Coast parents,’ Mr Goodman said.
‘One can just imagine the National Party parliamentarians Thomas George (Lismore), Don Page (Ballina) and Geoff Provest (Tweed) agreeing to keeping the ward open until after the March 2015 election campaign, and then slamming it shut a month later,’ he said.
‘Under the National Party, the health system on the North Coast has taken a pounding. As well as closing wards and driving up waiting lists for elective surgery, the state government is also putting parking fees on patients at Tweed Hospital.
‘Closing the children’s ward at Murwillumbah Hospital will also put added pressure on Tweed Hospital and its hard-working staff, and force parents to travel greater distances.
‘This is what happens when a state government rips $3 billion out of the health system,’ Mr Goodman said.