Nurse unit manager Maura Kelly with Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser.
Nurse unit manager Maura Kelly with Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser. David Barwell

Health minister visits Coffs: talks upgrade, security and regional health

A MULTI-million dollar upgrade to Coffs Harbour Health Campus, life expectancy rates, and hospital security were among the talking points when NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner touched down in Coffs Harbour today.

Joined by Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser, Ms Skinner this morning toured Coffs Harbour Health Campus to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the cardiac catheter laboratory.

It's a facility that provides diagnostic and interventional services, including stenting and angiography.

Hospital upgrade

Ms Skinner's visit marked 12 months since she announced a $156 million redevelopment of Coffs Harbour Health Campus.

She today confirmed construction "would commence in this term of government" meaning work is expected to start before the 2019 state election.

Mid North Coast Health District board chair Warren Grimshaw described the upgrade as "vital" to the long-term viability of the health campus.

"We're at the stage of developing the clinical services plan for the upgrade which involves speaking to surgeons, doctors and other staff about what the shortfalls are and where we ought to be putting more services into," he said.

"It's so important for the whole district that we get it right because it ensures our future direction. It's a critical piece of work."

Ms Skinner said there were no specific facilities that were in need of urgent upgrade. She said the funding was designed to meet capacity requirements.

The investment is expected to fund enhancements to operating theatres, new orthopaedic, short stay surgical and vascular units, and expansion of the ambulatory care area.


Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser talk with patients at Coffs Harbour Health Campus.
Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser talk with patients at Coffs Harbour Health Campus. David Barwell

Managing the "ice rage" at Coffs hospital

Ms Skinner confirmed she's aware of recent incidents at Coffs Harbour Health Campus involving violent patients affected by the drug "ice".

The Health Services Union has raised concerns about security at the hospital's emergency ward including "inadequate" staffing levels able to cope with aggressive patients.

In February, NSW Health released a 12 point plan to address the issue, following a near fatal shooting of a security guard and police officer at Sydney's Nepean Hospital.

Ms Skinner said it was plan signed-off by executives within the HSU.

"There has been lack of understanding about what powers security staff actually do have but legislation is clear in that security officers can retain patients under the supervision of doctors and nurses," Ms Skinner said.

"Since (the plan was released) the HSU have had further meetings with police to agree on protocols on bringing patients to hospital.

"Increasing security is a priority but staff are not going to be able to carry handcuffs and weapons - if it gets to that level you need police to handle those matters."

The plan also includes a review of external security agencies employed on a needs-basis in the state's hospitals including Coffs Harbour.

Mr Grimshaw described the need for the review as "urgent".

"The board has received numerous reports about how best to address the issue including the ways external providers operate to make sure they are delivering in accordance with requirements," Mr Grimshaw said.

"Security is one of the top priorities of the board but we have to know the full facts of individual matters that are being asserted.

"The focus is the security of staff and patients."

The health gap between Sydney and the regions

FIGURES show life expectancy in regional NSW is falling behind Sydney and other metropolitan areas.

Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2014 revealed average life expectancy for boys born in Coffs Harbour is 77.9 compared to 84.4 in Sydney, and 83 for girls, compared to 87.4 in the state's capital.

Ms Skinner said an interventional approach is one of the ways to bridge the gap.

"It's about stopping risk factors and taking early intervention that then reduces other complications or death," she said.

She said she wasn't aware of the ABS figures, but pointed to the state's Rural Health Plan that showed improvements to the access of regional health facilities.

"There are always challenges and if there is a difference in life expectancy then you may have to look at other lifestyle factors," Ms Skinner said.

"Smoking rates in regional NSW are much higher than in the city - are people (in Coffs Harbour) smoking more, eating more...?"

Mr Grimshaw said the region's demographics could also be a factor.

"We have an ageing community and a lower-socio economic community relative to the rest of NSW and Australia," he said.

"There are also ongoing issues with alcohol and drug abuse that need to be addressed. All those factors combined lead us to that scenario."

See Saturday's Advocate for more on the life expectancy gap between Coffs Harbour and Sydney.

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