The Murwillumbah community continues to pressure politicians and bureaucrats after the recent closure of the birthing unit at the town’s hospital.
According to the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) the closure was owing to the retirement of Murwillumbah’s key neonatal doctor and the reluctance of two remaining neonatal doctors to maintain the roster without a suitable replacement.
While petitions are being gathered and a public meeting is planned for Saturday, Sally Cusack from Maternity Choices Australia told Echonetdaily that a meeting last week with the NNSW LHD chief executive Chris Crawford, ‘was very positive, and an interim and even long-term solution may be possible.’
‘We were pleased that Mr Crawford was listening and wanted an outcome,’ she said.
Ms Cusack said that she is yet to receive a reply from NSW health minister Jillian Skinner, but added that the department has agreed to an independent review of the service, something which will include external input from the public.
‘It will help to draft terms of reference,’ she said.
More than two days’ notice
Remarkably, Lismore MP Thomas George (Nationals) said that he was only told about the closure ‘a week before.’
Echonetdaily asked NNSW LHD chief executive Chris Crawford why Mr George wasn’t advised of the closure earlier, to which he replied, ‘Service changes were not widely announced until all possibilities had been explored in the hope that a solution could be found. Due to NNSW LHD working to solve this problem right up until the deadline loomed, it meant that short notice was given of the service change. Women did in fact have more than two days notice of the change before they gave birth, as the first birth under the new arrangements did not occur until June 4, 2015.’
Mr Crawford also explained the background to why the unit closed.
‘The two remaining GP/VMOs (general practitioner/visiting medical officers) on the neonatal roster were asked to delay their resignations from the neonatal on-call roster until replacements could be found. Due to the extra workload required to maintain the then current roster coverage, the two remaining GP/VMOs providing the on-call neonatal service were not prepared to delay their resignations and confirmed that they were unable to maintain the roster after May 29, 2015.’
But, he added, ‘they have indicated that they will continue to support elective caesarean section deliveries and care of the babies, when they are available to do so.’
On June 13 The Tweed Daily News reported Murwillumbah GP Nispa Krongkaew as saying a colleague had applied unsuccessfully for the job in the last 12 months.
But Mr Crawford said the Murwillumbah District Hospital (MDH) neonatal on-call roster role is ‘not a standalone position.’
‘Before a GP/VMO is eligible to join the neonatal roster, that GP/VMO must have an appointment to MDH.
‘Every GP/VMO, who has an appointment to MDH was contacted and was asked whether he/she was willing to join the neonatal on-call roster [but] all declined. The MDH GP/VMO establishment is currently full. Therefore, there has been no capacity to recruit new GP/VMOs to MDH,’ he said.
Mr Crawford said that two Murwillumbah GPs, who are not MDH GP/VMOs, were considered for the neonatal roster.
He responded that ‘the resumes of these GPs were assessed by the director of paediatrics, who did not consider they had sufficient recent experience to be credentialed in neonatal medicine nor did they meet the requirements of the neonatal admitting medical officer role description.’
But he added that ‘with the resignation of Dr Higgins from 1 July, 2015, the opportunity to recruit to a new GP/VMO to MDH arises.
‘All Murwillumbah based GPs will have the opportunity to apply to fill the upcoming vacant MDH GP/VMO position.’
‘Should the vacant GP/VMO position be filled by a GP, who has the necessary neonatal medicine skills and is prepared to join the MDH neonatal roster, then an approach would be made to doctors Warne and Kettle to find out if they are prepared to re-establish the neonatal on-call roster with this new GP/VMO,’ Mr Crawford said.
Some services continue
Mr Crawford said there have been ‘incorrect’ media reports ‘which claim the Murwillumbah District Hospital (MDH) maternity service has closed’ but added that some services are still operating out of Murwillumbah.
‘The antenatal and postnatal Services for women having normal deliveries are still being provided at MDH. The MDH is only on by-pass for the actual birth for these women.
‘In addition, women can still be booked into MDH for their planned elective caesarean section births when a decision is made with their obstetricians that a caesarean section birth is clinically indicated,’ Mr Crawford said.
Nationals MLC Ben Franklin defends closure
New resident to Byron Shire and upper house MLC Ben Franklin (Nationals) has also commented on the closure.
He told Echonetdaily, ‘The decision to close the Murwillumbah Maternity Ward was made by the Northern NSW Local Health District and was made for safety reasons. The main reason was that one of the local birthing specialists retired and a replacement with the same level of knowledge, experience and newborn resuscitation skills couldn’t be found in time.’
‘The most difficult part is finding replacement specialists – it’s always hard in regional areas, and that must be overcome. I can assure you that this decision was not made by the Nationals, or the local MP Thomas George.
‘Mr Thomas’ record on Healthcare speaks for itself, having delivered the Murwillumbah Emergency Department upgrade, the new Murwillumbah Ambulance Station and a brand new Hospital in Lismore on the way.’
The public meeting will be held at Murwillumbah Community Centre on Saturday June 27 and runs from 10am til noon. Local politicians have been invited.