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Numbers build over hospital cuts

CIVIC PRIDE: The Civic Hall in Mullumbimby some time before the meeting started. It was soon packed out.
CIVIC PRIDE: The Civic Hall in Mullumbimby some time before the meeting started. It was soon packed out.

A STEELY resolve to fight moves to cut medical services at Mullum Hospital was voiced by speaker after speaker at a packed meeting in the town's Civic Hall on Monday.

The focus of the meeting, which drew about 250 fired-up residents, was the planned replacement of an emergency department night doctor with a "tele-health video conference" system which would comprise diagnoses carried out by a physician at the Tweed Hospital.

Installation of the tele-health system is due to take place in August and doctors are rostered only until the end of October.

But tele-conferencing was a flawed way to treat patients, the speakers said.

A person who suffered a heart attack could not be properly treated within "the golden hour" to maximise their recovery chances, said Frank Lynch, convenor of the campaign's steering committee. Having a doctor on-site meant a much better scenario, he said.

In a scathing and darkly funny speech, Dr Liz Elliott said the tele-system was not efficient from either a financial or time-saving point of view.

Should a patient need to be taken to Tweed Hospital, "an ambulance is hard to get and expensive - about $1300", she said.

"And then when it gets there, the patient will have to wait, and wait.

"Instead of receiving rapid, comforting and kind care near home, the hospital visit becomes an odyssey."

Elaine Robinson, who has campaigned with the Hospital Auxiliary since she came to the area in 1967, said she feared that people with a health problem at 3am or 4am would wait until the next morning before they sought help, rather than risk being sent to Tweed.

Nerida Dean (nee Siwicki) was born in the area but has been living in Queanbeyan, where she has been fighting to retain full services.

"We still have a hospital but the fight is never over," she warned.

The night-time mental health facility had been replaced with tele-conferencing and it was "a disaster", she said.

"People with dementia or young people with mental health problems cannot liaise with a doctor through a tele-video system.

"If you lose your Emergency Department, you will never get it back."

She also expressed outrage that no representative from the region's health service was present at the meeting.

Northern NSW Local Health District boss Chris Crawford had sent his apologies but Ms Dean said to loud applause: "Mr Crawford is a member of a board. Why is there no member of that board here?"

The mood of the meeting was of a more general resistance to any reduction in the quality of medical care - and one of pride that the hospital had been built up and maintained by the community for nearly 100 years.

Byron Shire deputy mayor Basil Cameron put a three-part motion to the vote, calling upon health authorities not to reduce services or replace A&E doctors with video cameras at Mullumbimby Hospital; opposing any reduction of staff at the hospital; and seeking a full consultation with nurses, doctors and the community about the future of medical services.

He put it to the vote and not a hand was raised in disagreement.

The steering committee will meet Mr Crawford this week.


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