Hospital tele plan in chaos

THE Local Health District's plans to replace an overnight doctor at Mullumbimby Hospital with a telehealth system, whereby a patient is diagnosed by a doctor at another site using "teleconferencing", have been thrown into confusion by the revelation that such a move would contravene its own guidelines.

Those guidelines state that the proposed system should be used only in conjunction with a doctor.

The Connecting Critical Care Emergency Department Program draft guidelines states: "The CCC videoconferencing camera must not be seen as a replacement for on-site medical consultation. Seriously ill or injured patients require the doctor on-call to be on site and as rapidly as possible."

The guideline document was published in March.

NSW Nurses Association representative Nola Scilinato said she agreed wholeheartedly with the draft guidelines and they should be enforced, as they were written by a clinician, presumably after extensive consultation and research.

Ms Scilinato said the guidelines were in keeping with the original intention of telehealth which was meant to be an adjunct to doctors, not a replacement.

She said she hoped health-care delivery in the Northern Rivers was being decided by clinicians and not health bureaucrats like local health district CEO Chris Crawford.

The Save Mullum Hospital Steering Committee president, Frank Lynch, said: "It would be negligent of the health department to operate telehealth without an on-site doctor as stated."

Mr Crawford said the guidelines' wording was mostly applicable to hospitals with "fairly high" levels of activity.

He said they could be "modified" for less busy hospitals like Mullumbimby, but only after community consultation and a telehealth trial.

Mr Crawford will have an opportunity to defend that interpretation at a protest meeting about the degradation of the hospital's services tonight (August 2) at Mullumbimby High School auditorium at 7pm.

"We're listening very hard (to the community) and that's why we're going to this meeting," Mr Crawford said.

"Some good arguments have been raised about where there might be problems (with telehealth).

"It's been a very good consultation so far."

Dr Liz Elliott, who is also on the Save the Hospital committee, said this week: "It seems that we are a test case for many smaller NSW hospitals, so our resolve and that of the nurses' is being watched by communities and politicians across NSW.

"In a sense we are fighting for many rural communities.

"Hospitals built by years of community work should not be shut down for minor savings.

"Would they close down a fire station if there were only a few fires a week?"

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