Doctors in new talks

By BELINDA F SCOTT

COFFS HARBOUR City Council has agreed to join local doctors in a working group to solve the city's medical development problems.

The medical director of the Mid North Coast Division of General Practice, Dr David Ellis, said the council had listened to doctors' concerns and he hoped the first meeting of the working group could take place next week.

The working group is expected to include the council's general manager Stephen Sawtell, Dr Ellis, the CEO of the MNCDGP Peter Spence, Dr Alex Joannou and Dr John Wenman, who are both involved in developing new medical centres, plus council planners.

Alterations and extensions to Baringa Private Hospital, including new operating theatres, are scheduled to begin this year, and specialists based at Baringa who will have to move, have precipitated a wave of new medical projects which are encountering planning problems relating to zonings, parking and flooding.

Surgeon Dr Ned Abraham recently called for a working party involving all local medical interests after a number of doctors went public with their concerns about the effect the problems were having on the supply of specialists.

Dr Abraham said the percentage of surgeons to patients was still within acceptable parameters, with five surgeons to about 60,000 people, so patients should not become alarmed.

Surgeon Associate Professor Bill Ross disagrees with those figures.

"I do not believe we have sufficient surgeons here, as excessive workloads reflect," he said.

Dr Ross said Coffs Harbour's surgeons covered a population of at least 100,000, including Nambucca, Bellingen and Coffs Harbour and it was important to encourage young surgeons to move here.

In 2004 the recommendation was for 10-20 general surgeons to 100,000 people and the Australian average was 18. Coffs Harbour has five.

Dr Ross wants to develop a new day surgery centre on land adjoining the Coffs Harbour Health Campus with cardiologist Dr Jon Waites.

Although this land is zoned for medical uses, it is the subject of a flood study be- cause it is closer to the creek than the hospital.

Physician Dr John Wenman and his wife, Barbara, have been told they cannot convert an existing 18-year-old physiotherapy clinic in Harbour Drive to a medical centre with a number of doctors because it is within a residential zoning and its current use was never approved.

Coffs Harbour City Council's Local Environment Plan 2000 consolidates medical developments in commercial zones.



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