“We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,” said Manning Great Lakes Community Action Group chairperson Alan Tickle at a community forum at Club Taree on Tuesday, August 22.
The forum drew a crowd of more than 80 people, including the NSW Shadow Minister for Health and Shadow Minister for North Coast, Walt Secord.
The Manning Great Lakes Community Health Action Group held the forum after the group’s annual meeting.
MGLCHAG president Alan Tickle said that all three of the local political representatives – Member for Lyne and Federal Assistant Minister for Health Dr David Gillespie, NSW Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead, and Member for Port Macquarie and Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health, Leslie Williams – were invited but did not attend.
The main theme to come out of the forum was intense frustration and anger that Manning Hospital is under-funded and under-resourced.
The Manning Great Lakes community needs to put away its begging bowl and start demanding action.
“We’ve been marking time and now we’re 20 years behind [everyone else in terms of funding],” Dr Murray Hyde-Page, Manning Hospital staff council member said.
“We need the community to stand up for what they deserve and be given a fair go.”
Dr Hyde-Page went on to say that agitation from the Port Macquarie community had positive results for their hospital.
“We need to follow that example.’’
Dr David Keegan, a local GP for 31 years, said that while trauma was the catalyst for the action group forming, the main issue is that Manning Hospital needs funding to bring it up to the level of an acute care hospital, but it his nowhere near this at the moment.
Because of this, Dr Keegan said, the hospital is so deficient that doctors do not want to come here and work, as they cannot get the training and support they need.
We need to stand on our dig and put up a big fight.
Dr Keegan said that 12 years ago Manning Hospital was bigger than Port Macquarie’s but now “we’ve slipped down the league table”.
He added that the Manning Hospital was lacking in highly trained staff and junior doctors are carrying a huge load.
“We don’t want to be John Hunter Hospital or even Port Macquarie, but we need to be able to provide acute care for local people,” Dr Keegan said.
Shadow minister for health, Walt Secord has been travelling around NSW on a ‘listening tour’. Mr Secord said that the issues at Manning Hospital are repeated across the State, however this was one of the most worrying meetings he has attended.
Before attending the forum Mr Secord reviewed the statistics for Manning Hospital. These statistics said that the hospital’s emergency department treats more than 31,000 patients a year.
“If that’s not a major hospital then I don’t know what is,” Mr Secord said.
After hearing stories of the responsibility of being ‘in charge’ being left to junior doctors at night, for example, Mr Secord said this would not be tolerated in Sydney.
He also said the long list and waiting times for elective surgery, more than half of which are for orthopaedic surgery or cataract removal, again would not be tolerated in Sydney.
However the news is not all glum. Due to the 794 members of the action group gained in the past year, and the pressure and agitation bought to bear by MGLCHAG, some traction has been gained.
Mr Tickle said the group expected to hear some political announcements in the future, for example the appointment of an orthopedic registrar and increased staff for ICU.
On Thursday, August 24, in response to the meeting, Member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead said he was “really disappointed” that the meeting appeared to be a front for a Labor Party committee.
“To have Walt Secord come here scaremongering the community for political gain is an absolute disgrace,” Mr Bromhead said.
He added that as Dr Keegan is a member of Country Labor, this was clearly a party political meeting, and the only reason Mr Secord was here was because he was invited by Dr Keegan.
In a media release Mr Secord claimed that “since April 2011 there has been a significant reduction in services … including cardiology, oncology and ear, nose and throat services.”
Mr Bromhead countered that claim by saying since 2011 the State government had enhanced services at Manning Hospital, including intensive care, renal dialysis, orthopaedics, appointment of more midwives and, for the first time, an oncologist.
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Mr Bromhead said that Manning Hospital was meeting or exceeding its key performance indicators, and talked of the $20 million for Stage 1 of the Manning Hospital redevelopment.
Mr Bromhead could not attend the community forum on Tuesday as he had previously accepted an invitation from the Tinonee Rural Fire Service.
A further meeting is being held on Monday, August 28 between MGLCHAG and both the chairman and CEO of Hunter New England Health.
MGLCHAG have started a petition and say the community needs to get behind it so that it can gather more than 10,000 signatures – the amount needed for the petition to be tabled in Parliament.
They also encourage individual members of the community to write to their local representatives to demand more funding, and support the group on their MGL community Health Action Group Facebook page.