Murwillumbah, near the border of NSW and Queensland, has been served by a district hospital for almost a century. All the locals have an association with it: they were born there, patched up there, or have family members who died there — over two or three generations.
It’s no wonder that the whole community is incensed by the NSW Government’s relentless rundown of the hospital and the transfer of its services to Tweed Heads Hospital which is 30kms north. They regard this as a prelude to closure.
More than 9000 locals signed a petition last year which was presented to then Health Minister Reba Meagher and 7000 took to the streets for a protest march through the town’s main streets.
Last weekend people formed a human chain around the hospital declaring: “Hands off our hospital.”
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The architect of the Murwillumbah plan is Professor Deb Picone, the Director-General of NSW Health and a former right-wing nursing union official. The executioner is Chris Crawford, chief executive of the North Coast Area Health Service who is also husband of Catherine Cusack, the State Opposition’s front bench spokeswoman on climate change and environmental sustainability.
Both Picone and Crawford have so angered the hospital support committee that it has decided to bypass both of them and deal only with Premier Nathan Rees and Health Minister John Della Bosca.
Crawford either ignores correspondence from the committee or is slow to respond. When the hospital’s CEO Ian Murray stepped down last year due to ill health there was no announcement from Crawford either in appreciation of Murray’s 20 years’ service to the hospital or about his successor.
Last July Meagher visited Murwillumbah and assured locals that the Government did not want to downgrade the hospital’s obstetric services.
Since then the number of obstetricians has dropped from three to none. They tendered conditional resignations last month in protest at the policy of transferring high-risk maternity patients on weekends to the Tweed Heads Hospital.
They have given the health authority a deadline of March 2 to restore the services or they will quit.
The Murwillumbah Hospital, like other cash-strapped and indebted hospital across the State, is at the mercy of consultants and the highly paid end of the medical profession.
They don’t like working at Murwillumbah Hospital because the quality of the work is poor: mothers with babies and old geezers with broken hips and dementia — and these ain’t patients they like attending.
They can earn twice the fees at Tweed Heads Hospital, John Flynn Hospital or the Gold Coast Hospital and they lose money every time they climb into their BMWs to drive through the canefields to Murwillumbah Hospital.
Only when the federal and state governments are prepared to take on the blood suckers from the US, British and European pharmaceutical companies and the arrogant, elitist greed of the consultants will the public health service be restored to decent, safe and quality care.
Oh, and smash up the health bureaucracy from paper shuffling to service delivery.