The fast-tracking of the redevelopment of Tweed Hospital has become a major state election issue with the Greens joining a campaign to get it done, saying lives were at risk as a result of hospital services being neglected.
Calls by doctors, staff and other community groups for urgent action to address the overcrowding and under staffing have been growing louder, with the Greens this week adding their voice for the fast tracking.
They are also calling for a new planning framework to ensure new residential developments trigger investment in social infrastructure, including hospitals.
Greens NSW MP John Kaye was in the Tweed this week campaigning with lower house candidate Andrea Vickers, from the Tweed Valley, and upper house candidate Dawn Walker, from Fingal Head.
Dr Kaye said that hospital services in the Tweed ‘have been the victim of Labor and the Nationals’ neglect and the triumph of developer greed over good planning’.
‘While the developers have been allowed to run riot, new investment in infrastructure to match the resulting population growth was put on hold,’ he said.
‘Tweed Hospital no longer has sufficient capacity to provide for the community, leaving patients on waiting lists and putting nurses and doctors under unacceptable levels of stress.
‘The immediate solution is to fast track the development of the hospital, out of the master planning phase and into real commitments and a timetable that matches the population needs.
‘Master plans are great but not if nobody does anything with it and the hospital just keeps getting busier and busier. Patients will be put at risk if something is not done,’ Dr Kaye said.
Ms Vickers said that ‘while Labor and the Nationals have been finger pointing, the community is wondering if the talk will ever translate into action.
‘Elections are great times to get commitments but they have to be real. While the debate rages, lives are at risk because Tweed Hospital can no longer cope,’ Ms Vickers said.
‘Health investment must match the needs of the community. Every new residential dwelling approved in the Tweed should be accumulated into a process that mandates investment in new hospital capacity, as well as schools and transport.
‘This mess was entirely predictable. They took their eye off the ball and allowed the occupational health and safety of doctors and nurses to be compromised, waiting lists to blow out and patients to be put at risk,’ she said.
Ms Walker said that ‘NSW has never had a health strategy that both invests in facilities to match population growth and changing needs and maximises health outcomes by spending on prevention’.
‘Politicians keep talking about prevention but neither Labor nor the Coalition have been prepared to spend the money today in order to bring down long term health needs,’ Ms Walker said.
‘The Abbott government’s attacks on Medicare will make primary health care more expensive and will doubly impact on the already over-stressed Tweed Hospital.
‘GPs play a key role in keeping the population healthy and out of hospital. Making a visit to the local doctor more expensive will drive patients to the emergency department.
‘The Greens call for the Health Minister Jillian Skinner to meet with the local doctors and nurses at Tweed Hospital in a genuinely consultative process and resolve this urgently.’
The Health Services Union recently slammed what it called ‘intentional understaffing’ to save on costs at the hospital, saying it had led to patients being treated by first-year students.
The union also claimed services were supplemented with private providers causing massive cost blow-outs.
Tweed medical staff council chair Dr Ian McPhee last week told media that after a meeting with the state health minister last week, it was agreed that senior clinicians would meet with local health district chief executive Chris Crawford next month to re-order priorities in the first stage of the hospital redevelopment.
Dr McPhee told APN Media this was because the hospital’s needs for expansion has increased since 2013, when the redevelopment plans were received by health minister Gillian Skinner.
Ms Skinner said the upgrade of the hospital was being considered as part of the NSW government’s future health capital works program on which ‘discussions are ongoing and further detail will be made public in due course’.