The operating theatre at Glen Innes Hospital has been upgraded, indicating that Hunter New England Health sees a continued future for it.
Work has been done on the air-conditioning in the operating room itself but also in surrounding support rooms – old porcelain sinks, for example, have been replaced with stainless steel ones. Sinks have taps which turn on through sensors rather than through elaborate, old-fashioned knee pushes.
Wooden cupboards have been replaced with storage areas of more modern and hygienic materials.
Medical professionals who know the situation in Glen Innes believe the improvements indicate that Hunter New England Health is not considering closing down the theatre.
In country hospitals, there is often pressure to withdraw some functions and concentrate them in bigger hospitals like Armidale, Tamworth and Newcastle.
There is also change at the top of Glen Innes Hospital. The current manager, Cathryn “Topsie” Jones is moving on to another role within the health authority. She has been replaced by an acting manager, Leeanne Fitzgerald.
Ms Fitzgerald has been the manager of the Guyra “multi-purpose service” which has a GP practice and also services for acutely ill people who live at the centre and are treated there.
Cathryn Jones expects to return to her role at the top of Glen Innes hospital, though no time-frame has been specified. She is to be involved in a project to review and run services across the wider area.
There are also new staff at Glen Innes hospital, including two people specialising in mental health as well as a nurse and a social worker. These are not new posts but replacements for staff who have left.
As well as investment, the future of the hospital depends on the availability of doctors in the town. If there isn’t a GP who also speciailses in anaesthetics, for example, operations can’t be done.
Similarly, if there isn’t a GP who also specialises in pregnancy and childbirth, expectant mothers have to go elsewhere to give birth.
On recruiting new doctors no progress has been announced.
The authorities have been trying to persuade at least one to come but if they have succeeded, it has not been made public.
It is still not clear how the authorities plan to staff the hospital with doctors. The current system of using local doctors and flying in reserves to fill weekend gaps has been criticised.
At one stage, Adam Marshall was considering the Inverell system where an agency commits to providing adequate staff but that idea seems not to have found favour with the mayor and others involved in the hospital.
In April, Mr Marshall said he had asked Hunter New England Health to “look at all the options to maintain 24/7 medical staff coverage of the hospital as is required and expected by me and the Glen Innes community.”
He added: “If it requires a solution similar to Inverell, then that is what Glen Innes should have”.
“There has to be 24/7 doctor coverage at the hospital. There’s no compromising on that”, he said.