Fight to save Bellingen hospital
DESPITE plenty of promises and assurances from politicians, the Bellingen community has vowed to continue campaigning against any moves to downgrade or close their hospital.
Around 600 people rallied in Maam Gaduying on Saturday as part of International Nurses Day celebrations and in a major show of support for the Bellinger River District Hospital.
They later carried their protest through the streets of the town, sending a strong message to health bureaucrats about any attempts on their part to downgrade services.
While sitting and aspiring local members of parliament gave guarantees the facility would remain open, it was the passionate speeches of health professionals attached to the hospital which aroused the strongest applause.
Jo Keough from the NSW Nurses Union told the gathering the current trial amalgamation with the Macksville Hospital had been delivered by stealth and resulted in the loss of senior management and Bellingen’s director of nursing.
“Somehow in this country health has become a luxury item and that is an absolute disgrace,” Ms Keough said.
“Make no mistake, we have a fight on our hands here.
“You can’t grow a community without a vibrant health service but I fear that the gradual degradation of services we have already experienced will continue unless we fight it tooth and nail.”
The head of the hospital’s medical staff council, Dr Deidre Little, accused the Health Minister, Carmel Tebbett, of by default supporting the closure of acute care beds, midwifery and overnight accident and emergency services by continuing to support the management of the North Coast Area Health Service.
“What we say to Carmel Tebbett and what we say to the area health service is what you are doing is badly done,” Dr Little said. “Life-threatening events are rare and random and so we must keep the overnight accident and emergency service in place.
“If the service is axed and these people have to instead go to Coffs Harbour, I am worried that some won’t make it.”
Dr Andrew Cheney said the Coffs Harbour hospital was already overwhelmed so any cuts at Bellingen would have a major impact on its already strained services.
“Our hospital is cheap to run, it has a great safety record but is underutilised,” Dr Cheney said.