Changes in health structure

COFFS Coast’s new public health structure is undergoing a transition period which is expected to last for about six months.

The chief executive of the new Mid North Coast Local Health Network, Stewart Dowrick, said the MNCLHN and its neighbour, Northern NSW Local Health Network, were still partly ‘wedded at the hip’ and the next few months would see them working through the appropriate distribution of resources and assets and where agreed, a sharing of resources.

February 2 will see the first meeting of the governing council of the new Mid North Coast Local Health Network which came into being on January 1 as part of national health reforms.

The gathering will be the first time the members of the council, chairman Warren Grimshaw and Mr Dowrick have had a formal meeting.

Mr Dowrick said while the event would be partly a ‘getting to know you’ occasion it would also discuss reporting requirements and plan presentation, as well as statutory requirements covering finance, quality and governance.

The past five years saw funding for the former North Coast Area Health Service, which covered the Coffs Coast, increase by about $250 million.

Mr Dowrick said this had helped the NCAHS improve its funding base and the new national health reforms identified the new Mid North Coast Local Health Network as one of those within a growth corridor which would attract additional funding.

He said the Mid North Coast had a growth rate of 1.3 per cent per annum, which was above the NSW average of 0.8 per cent.

The most dramatic increase is the numbers of residents over 65 which was growing at four per cent per annum and was predicted to grow by 42 per cent between 2006 and 2016.

People over 65 consume a far greater share of health services than younger residents.

On the topic of the industrial action by nurses aimed at persuading the NSW Government to introduce mandated nurse to patient ratios, the chief executive said he appreciated the professionalism of the NSW Nurses Association and the management team which had been working in a difficult environment and hoped the matter would be resolved.

Mr Dowrick was involved in the commissioning of the Coffs Harbour Health Campus which opened in 2001.

He was also visiting Coffs Harbour on March 31, 2009 and was caught in the city’s flash flooding.

He said the health campus, where flood water lapped the emergency department; covered the helipad and cut off access to the hospital, had been designed to be above a one in 500 year flood level, as required by the NSW Government at the time and buildings constructed later had been raised further.

“Health facility guidelines change each year,” Mr Dowrick said.

“The environment we live in is changing for whatever reason and we need to reconsider the issues of building and flooding.”

In all weathers, the crowded Health Campus carpark is a topic of frequent grumbles from visitors and has been the subject of a petition by staff.

Mr Dowrick said they would have to look at that problem.

“The options might include a multi-storey carpark, but there are strict government guidelines on funding and how this would operate,” he said.

Smaller hospitals will not be neglected under the LHN he said. The larger base hospitals would not be able to cope without them.

He said the biggest growth in emergency department attendance in the past five years had been at smaller hospitals, which had seen rises of about 38 per cent while the major hospitals had seen growth in the percentage of more acute triage two and three emergency cases.

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