Carmel Tebbutt to further investigate Bello Hospital.
Carmel Tebbutt to further investigate Bello Hospital.

Bellingen Hospital is safe for now

THE NSW Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, has given no assurances in writing but the delegation that met with her yesterday to discuss the situation at Bellingen Hospital has arrived home with renewed confidence about its future.

Local delegates to yesterday’s 35-minute meeting in Parliament House with Ms Tebbutt and her chief-of-staff were unanimous in their appreciation of the minister’s efforts to be well informed about the central issues.

The Bellingen mayor said he believed the trip to Macquarie Street was worthwhile and that the delegation got a good hearing.

“I wasn’t expecting the minister to give us a cheque on the spot but it was reassuring that she seemed to understand the basis of our concerns,” Cr Troy said.

He said while the minister didn’t give any iron-clad guarantees, she did concede she needed to look “even further” into the situation facing the Bellingen Hospital.

“The minister acknowledged the need to revisit the data supplied by the clinical taskforce and she offered to follow up the decline in maternity services at the hospital,” added Cr Troy.

Bellingen Shire Council GM Mike Colreavy said Ms Tebbutt, who is also the Deputy Premier, also gave assurances she would have her staff investigate the delgation’s fears about threats to the 24-hour accident and emergency service, the retention of acute care beds and the deteriorating state of infrastructure at the hospital.

Bellingen Health Action Group member Jacki Lockyer said the visit to Sydney was more than valuable because it allowed the group to clarify any misunderstandings and misconceptions.

“The minister seemed genuinely interested in Bellingen’s preventative medicine model. She was not aware of it so it was great to be able to tell her about it,” Ms Lockyer said.

But all agreed it was the minister’s undertaking to improve the lines of communication between the community and the North Coast Area Health Service was the meeting’s most significant achievement.

“She was surprised that there had been zero input from the community and that the Area Health Service had not engaged in consultation about changes at the hospital,” Mr Colreavy said.

“I’m sure in the next few months the minister will make an announcement about the need for more meaningful community consultation about the future needs of the community and the hospital, and its place in the regional hospital system,” Cr Troy said.

However in a statement late yesterday, a spokesperson for the minister made no mention of the undertaking to direct the North Coast Area Health Service to engage in consultation with residents of the Bellingen Shire.

“Discussions with community members are important and the minister supports ongoing dialogue in the future,” was as far as the statement went.

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