"No easy answer" says minister to calls for a permanent hospital doctor

NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard.

NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard.

The NSW health minister is looking into the call for a full-time doctor at Glen Innes Hospital.  Brad Hazzard told parliament in Sydney that he would talk to local MP, Adam Marshall, about the demand made in a petition which attracted a hundred signatures a day.

But the minister did not give any indication that the current policy of having doctors on call but not actually stationed at the hospital would be changed.  It was, he indicated, a matter of economics.

The Glen Innes Greens which have pushed the issue rejected that argument.   “The problem lies in the Health Minister's office, in Treasury and budgeting, that has deemed emergency care in rural towns not receive the same priority as urban areas”, said Glen Innes Greens spokesman, Mercurius Goldstein”.

Mr Hazzard said the advice he’d had from the health administration in Glen Innes was that “they have in place structures that are safe.

“New South Wales is a very big State and in some remote areas—I acknowledge that Glen Innes is not remote—it will always be a challenge to get a full-time medical practitioner in an Emergency Department.

He added that one doctor would not be enough to staff the hospital 24 hours a day:  “If a doctor is on duty for eight or 10 hours there would need to be two or three doctors. On top of that there would need to be another two or three doctors because they cannot work 52 weeks of the year or 365 days.”

“I do not know that there will be an easy answer”, he said, but he would look into it and talk to the local MP.

There is already a shortage of doctors in Glen Innes, with newcomers finding it difficult to register with a GP.  Some residents have complained that they can’t get the right specialist treatment at Glen Innes Hospital but have to go to Inverell or Armidale.

Health policy in many areas and countries is to centralize services because duplicating specialist equipment and staff in many smaller centers is expensive. 

The Greens in Glen Innes have argued that, as Mr Goldstein put it, “the 'on-call' system is in no way equivalent to or a substitute for a doctor-on-duty at the hospital.  The on-call model compromises medical care because it prioritizes cost-reduction over the needs of patients and the well-being of nurses and doctors. 

“Glen Innes residents also understand this, which is why the petition has attracted at latest count 650 signatures in barely a week. That's ten per cent of the local population signing a physical petition in seven days – it's an unprecedented response.”