The call for a 24-hour doctor at Glen Innes Hospital is to be raised with NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard.
Northern Tablelands MP, Adam Marshall, has written to Glen Innes’ deputy mayor, Carol Sparks, saying: “I have made direct representations to the Minister for Health, the Hon Brad Hazzard MP, asking for his attention to all the issues outlined in your submission and supported by the community signatories.”
He is referring to the petition organised by Cr Sparks and her colleagues in the Green Party. It got more than 1,600 signatures calling for the hospital’s current system of relying on local doctors or temporary ones flown in rather than having a permanent doctor on site.
Mr Marshall is a minister in the NSW government alongside Mr Hazzard. It’s not clear what “direct representations” means – it could be no more than a brief chat or something more formal. Both ministers represent parties opposed by the Greens.
The issue has been contentious in Glen Innes. There’s no doubt the petition revealed discontent with the way the current service operates.
Defenders of the service say that it may not be perfect but it represents a wise use of scarce money. At the moment, local GPs see their patients in the hospital when necessary. Some opt to be on call to the hospital outside their normal hours. Doctors say they work very long hours anyway and can’t be expected to answer calls in the middle of the night and then work a full day in their surgeries.
Gaps are filled by temporary doctors, sometimes flown in for the weekend from Sydney and paid $5,000 for the weekend’s work at the hospital.
There is a difficulty for hospitals in rural areas and small towns. The rationale from Hunter New England Health is that specialist services should be centralised in bigger towns like Armidale and Tamworth. Local hospitals like Glen Innes offer some services (like delivering babies if the birth is not likely to be complicated).
Glen Innes Hospital relies on a skill set among local GP – one might be an anesthetist and another an expert in obstetrics. If a doctor leaves the town for good and takes his or her skills away, the hospital cannot then perform particular procedures.
It’s not clear how far a conversation between Mr Marshall and Mr Hazzard can go towards resolving difficult problems affecting Glen Innes and many rural towns.