Operation cut back

COFFS Harbour Hospital is expected to extend its emergency-only policy over the Christmas-New Year period until January 19 as part of cut-backs to the North Coast Area Health Service.

The hospital will shut down all but one operating theatre for the festive season as staff await news of proposed job cuts.

Nursing and Health Services Union representatives are now waiting anxiously for more details on cuts announced at the weekend.

The North Coast Area Health Service says there will be no forced redundancies, but Coffs Harbour specialist anaesthetist Paul Moran says patients can expect more waiting for surgery and more difficulties getting treatment.

Earlier press reports said the North Coast Area Health Service, which includes Coffs Coast hospitals and community medical services, would cut 400 full-time jobs, including nurses, cleaners and managers.

Coffs Harbour Nationals MP Andrew Fraser said yesterday medical sources had put the planned job cuts in Coffs Harbour at 65 and nursing sources had suggested 85.

Sue White, the president of the Coffs Harbour Base Hospital branch of the NSW Nurses Association, and Marilyn Body, the Coffs Harbour Community Nurses representative on the NSWNA, were among the committee of delegates who attended a meeting with NSW Premier Nathan Rees last Tuesday.

Between them they represent 400 Coffs Harbour nurses in public health.

Ms White said the Premier had not mentioned numbers.

She said although Mr Rees had told them no front line jobs would be cut, there was confusion over the definition of ‘front line’ and nobody was clear about what positions would be affected.

She said there were many ‘invisible’ positions which supported nurses in delivering safe patient care.

"It is all about patients," Ms White said.

"We are seeking clarification from the North Coast Area Health Service.

"I don’t see where they could find so many positions (to cut)."

Coffs Harbour Base Hospital nurses will meet at 3pm today to discuss the situation and will then meet the hospital’s director of nursing.

North Coast Health Services Union organiser Ken McIntosh said his union was seeking urgent face-to-face discussions with the North Coast Area Health Service to discuss and consult on the job cuts, especially in relation to allied health staff.

He said if 400 jobs were lost it could only mean a reduction in services, because this number of jobs could not disappear without some front line staff cuts.

Dr Paul Moran said while he had not been privy to any discussions, he had heard ‘on the grapevine’ that staff whose contracts had expired or who left for other reasons would not be replaced.

Public hospital anaesthetists throughout NSW have just renegotiated five-year contracts and Dr Moran suggested this could be where some of the health budget overrun money had gone, because it had ‘not been a level playing field’.

Pay rates for anaesthetists at Port Macquarie Hospital, built by a private consortium and later handed over to NSW Health, have been a source of friction between the specialists and public hospital management.

A spokesman for the Area Health Service said there would be no change in the NSW Government’s 2008-09 budget allocation to North Coast Area Health Service of $717.7 million, an additional $36.7 million over last year.

He said it was not possible to say exactly by how much the NCAHS total staff of around 6500 (48 per cent are nurses) would be reduced, but there had been no decision to reduce nursing staff at Coffs Harbour Health Campus by 90 and a claim to this effect was refuted.

"There will be no forced redundancies," he said.

"It is too early to speculate about whether voluntary redundancies may be offered to staff. The tight budgetary framework is expected to continue for some time and decisions taken will be in the context of ongoing planning."


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