‘Mind-boggling’ excuses given for closing operating theatre for years

The inquiry is investigating the state of rural and regional healthcare after reports by the Herald uncovered deaths and near-misses at hospitals across western NSW.

Locals lacked confidence that a doctor would even be available at the hospital, Cr Maytom said. “We don’t know at anytime that if we go to hospital today whether there is going to be doctor there.”

That meant locals often decided to go elsewhere, even to the smaller town of Narrandera.

He said the Department of Health had been unable to attract, retain and appropriately train the workforce required in rural and remote NSW. “This is shameful in a nation that has one of the highest rates of trained doctors and nurses per person,” he said.

Cr Maytom said Leeton had three ambulances but only staff for two, causing delays especially as they were used for patient transport to nearby towns. The hearing heard of similar delays in other towns. Often ambulances had to come from another town and staff didn’t live locally.

Cr Maytom said the people of Leeton considered access to a health service a basic human right.

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“Let me be clear that as a rural community, we’re not asking for anything unrealistic. We don’t expect open-heart surgery or brain surgery. But what we do expect are the basics. We expect to reliably receive basic treatment that saves the lives and supports run-of-the-mill medical conditions.”

Narrandera Mayor Neville Kschenka said so many patients had been travelling hours for treatment for kidney failure that locals raised money to buy a dialysis machine. But the local health service couldn’t recruit the staff to run it.

Representatives of the CWA, including Linda McLean from Hillston, said the organisation had been set up nearly 100 years ago to fight for better rural health services, including to ensure women could give birth close to home.

Labor’s Walt Secord, a member of the inquiry, asked the CWA reps what they thought about the evidence about the lack of doctors, dormant operating rooms, ghost beds in empty wards, avoidable deaths, lack of medical supplies and lack of maternity beds.

Mrs McLean replied, “I feel very angry, I suppose. It is just unfair.”

Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park MP said the evidence showed that rural health services have deteriorated under the NSW Coalition, while demand has increased.

“We have tens of thousands of people sitting on a waiting list for life-changing elective surgery, often for many months. To find out, we have operating theatres right across NSW sitting unused is unacceptable,” he said.

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