I sometimes wonder whether government departments learn from their mistakes, and make meaningful changes to their policies and procedures to avoid making them again in the future.
Back in August of 2010, the Gulgong Hospital was closed down unexpectedly, with the then state government citing fears of asbestos contamination in the building leaving them with no other option.
Only a few months prior, the Gulgong community had specifically asked whether the state government had concerns about the building, and whether the future of the facility was in jeopardy. They were told it wasn’t.
In a media release at the time, the state government said they would move to an “integrated primary and community health care model”, which would offer Gulgong services based on “prevention, early diagnosis and improved management of chronic disease”. In short, we’d lost our hospital, and a wordy public relations team tried to sell it to the local community as a step forward. It wasn’t, and the community of Gulgong knew it.
Locals were enraged, and rightfully so.
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An arduous battle ensued, with public rallies conjuring up thousands of people who were understandably feeling short changed by the huge slap in the face handed down by the State Government of the day. Following a barrage of negative publicity, and the attention of numerous national news outlets, as if by magic, the Government came up with the money to build a new Multi Purpose Service (MPS) in its place.
Prior to this happening, I’d had no involvement in any sort of politics, although I was always up for a bit of a battle over things I felt strongly about. My teachers from high school would no doubt attest to that fact, given the hell I put them through as a young, opinionated teenager. Funnily enough, Sharelle Fellows, who hasn’t faltered once in her battle against the latest debacle related to health services provision in Gulgong, was one of them. In a strange, and somewhat unfortunate twist, we’ve now been reunited outside of the classroom, and in a battle against a situation that oughtn’t exist in the first place. Our community deserves better, and we’re not prepared to back down.
Creating and co-ordinating the “MPS Nothing Less” campaign back in 2010 served as my unexpected foot in the door to politics. Following a successful outcome, and the replacement of the Gulgong Hospital with the Gulgong MPS, people encouraged me to run for a position on Local Government, which I subsequently did in 2012. I’d like to say it has all been rewarding, and a lot of it has, but it’s not all rosy. The latest developments in what seems to be a continuing sad story of health provision in NSW serves as a timely reminder that the fight is far from over, and we’re a long way from the idealistic position the politicians and PR departments working for these government departments would otherwise have you believe.
Many of you probably read or heard about the saddening story of Dawn Trevitt, or indeed in just about every community group on Facebook over the past week. Dawn, for those of you who don’t know her, was an amazingly kind-hearted lady who taught hundreds (or probably thousands) of children here in Gulgong. Only a few weeks ago, she passed away at Gulgong MPS from internal bleeding, while a doctor consulted her over the phone, as part of the state government’s modern approach to provision of health services, the Telehealth system.
We’ve got a tricky situation on our hands here, but the foundations upon which this pathetic level of healthcare is built is brain-explodingly simple. NSW Health, and many other state government departments entrusted to provide essential services to the communities that ultimately fund their very existence, apply benchmarking that’s based on nothing more than financial outcomes.
These departments don’t get a pat on the back for the lives they save. Instead, they get a pat on the back for how many dollars they save. The result? Ill thought out policy positions that ultimately cost people’s lives.
You know what bleeding patients need? The same thing burning houses do; physical intervention.
NSW Health can spin this however they choose, but the provision of healthcare by telephone has no place in regional hospitals. PR departments will, in what seems like a never ending repetition of practice, sell this as a win for regional communities, citing difficulties in attracting actual doctors to rural areas, and the availability of additional skill sets brought about by the technology, but it’s ultimately all just spin.
You cannot build a health care system without the physical presence of clinicians. It’s a bit like building a fire station with webcams and television screens. You know what bleeding patients need? The same thing burning houses do; physical intervention. I know, it blows my mind when I think about it, too.
We’re only ten years down the track from our hospital closure, and now we’re facing the unthinkable reality of a multi million dollar medical facility operating without a doctor. You don’t have mines without engineers, and you don’t have pharmacies without pharmacists. Hospitals without doctors is unfathomably archaic, unacceptable and dangerous. Unless you fight the fight, future governments will probably start proposing drone delivered self help kits when you’re in cardiac arrest, in place of our highly skilled paramedics.
It sounds far-fetched, but with the rapid advancement of technology, a forever increasing desire to deliver more services on increasingly cut back budgets, and a clear disconnect between government policies and the reality of someone dying in the hands of our wonderful nurses, and in front of their friends and family, we’re not that far off it being a reality.
When it comes to providing health services, we cannot afford to let facilities operate without adequate staffing, and especially not a doctor. Gulgong has a doctor that’s more than willing to provide a VMO service to the local community, but right now, you won’t get him in an emergency, because there’s no contract in place to allow that to happen.
If the arrangement NSW Health has with that doctor is unacceptable to them, for whatever reason, a temporary contract to provide the services should be entered into immediately, while another, more suitable arrangement is investigated. If it’s a matter of money, there ought to be enough funds for a temporary arrangement given the savings they’ve made over the past few months by not paying any doctor whatsoever. Regardless of which, perhaps a small amount out of the tens of millions of dollars being poured into sporting facilities around the state would be better spent in communities like Gulgong where people are quite literally dying. Lives here matter just as much as they do in larger areas, but what we’re seeing in our beautiful town would tell you that the Government thinks otherwise.
Regardless of where you sit, the reality in this situation is that when the provision of health care and emergency services is benchmarked solely on financial performance, above the provision of actual, meaningful and life saving services to the very taxpayers that pay for it, something is severely and unforgivably broken with the system.
Four months without a doctor is inexcusable, and for anyone that says it’s not, ask yourself whether decision makers would ever let it happen in their own towns and communities. Many of them live in major city centres, so the answer is absolutely no.
For the sake of your families, children, loved ones and friends, get angry about this and sign the petition. You might be lucky enough to live in a community where a doctor is on duty at your local hospital, and the situation we’re in right now might not really concern you. It’s only a matter of time before that changes and it does. Government departments guided solely by financial performance will inevitably find opportunities to save money, in otherwise inconceivable locations.
Yours could be the next one on the chopping block, and we simply can’t afford to wait until it’s one of our friends or family that needs a doctor, and the next available one is thousands of kilometres away in Geneva.