Coffs Harbour Base Hospital is set to rise in prominence as the region’s peak health institution under the Rudd reform.
Coffs Harbour Base Hospital is set to rise in prominence as the region’s peak health institution under the Rudd reform.

Changes planned for healthcare

ONE of the region’s leading medicos believes the Prime Minister’s health shake-up could see Coffs/Clarence go it alone.

Dr Helena Johnston believes the current network – comprising Coffs, Grafton, Dorrigo, Macksville and Bellingen hospitals, is likely to remain as a unit after the existing North Coast Area Health Service is dissolved next year.

The current network is currently managed by Margaret Bennett, who is based in Coffs Harbour, but will leave on Friday to take up a senior position in Victorian health. Director of clinical services, Dr Theresa Beswick, will act in the position after Mrs Bennett leaves.

The Commonwealth health changes have been expanded to include the entire health system – not just hospitals, so aged care and primary care will now be included and will receive additional funding and support.

The Mid North Coast Division of General Practice covers a similar geographical to the NCAHS Coffs Clarence network.

Among measures agreed to on Tuesday by the Commonwealth and the NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, were limiting unnecessary bureaucracy by limiting the number of local health networks to 90 nationally, not the 150 originally proposed; allowing the States to determine the size, number and location of these LHNs; allowing the States to appoint LHN managing councils and block funding for small rural hospitals.

There will also be State and Territory representation on the Independent Pricing Authority to ensure the differences in wages and costs of delivering health care in each jurisdiction are taken into account.

The medical director of the Mid North Coast Division of General Practice, Dr Helena Johnston, said while there was ‘nothing on the ground yet’ the way the NCAHS was set out in four networks provided natural areas for LHNs.

“It seems reasonable to use these, rather than try to ‘unpick’ it,” Dr Johnston said. “The NCAHS has a clinical services planning exercise over the next five years or so.”

She said the GP divisions could also be a good fit for managing primary health care, which will be 100 per cent Federally funded.

“We have four divisions of GPs within the North Coast Area Health Service and we have looked at the possibility of an integrated network across those divisions,” she said.

“We know the Federal Government is looking at established networks and it makes sense to see a regional entity. It makes sense to pull together – the same population but a different focus.”

Dr Johnston is pleased by the extra $1.7 billion over the next four years that will be spent on health care for NSW families under the federal agreement with NSW Premier Kristina Keneally.

The money will go to fund acute hospital beds, emergency departments, elective surgery and sub-acute care.




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