BATHURST'S health services are at a critical crossroads as the city risks falling even further behind Orange in terms of health investment, Bathurst Regional Council has been warned.
Councillors have been told of concerns among the region's doctors that local service levels will fall further if new recruits cannot be found.
Bathurst Base Hospital has just two full-time anaesthetists and from September will be down to a single obstetrician while it appears more and more money is being pumped into Orange.
The alarm has been raised as council considers its submission to the NSW Health Bathurst Community and Region Integrated Clinical Services Plan 2019-2029.
The plan will be a blueprint for the future of Bathurst Health Service.
A report to councillors by environmental planning and building services director Neil Southorn said it would address the region's current needs and anticipated demand for services, and articulate the role of Bathurst Health Service as a "hub" in a network of services.
"There has been growing concern about a perceived disparity in health services between Bathurst and Orange, with the state government seeming to prioritise investment into Orange as a single hub for health services in the region, resulting in a continuing need for citizens of Bathurst travelling to Orange (or Sydney) for services that might be better provided in Bathurst," the report states.
"At the same time, services provided in Bathurst are on occasions at capacity, with the strong population growth of Bathurst region expected to exacerbate this issue."
Mr Southorn's concerns have been echoed by Bathurst-based orthopaedic surgeon Dr Lachlan Host, who provides services in services in Bathurst and Lithgow, as well as contributing to trauma coverage at Orange Base Hospital.
He told councillors it was already becoming difficult to fill hospital rosters with full-time staff, with Bathurst becoming more and more dependent on locums.
"There's been a lot of talk among clinicians, a lot of unrest at the hospital in terms of the services we're trying to provide and we need help," Dr Host said.
"We're a small voice in a big area and we're not getting a lot of traction in terms of some of the areas we're trying to push forward.
"Most people would be aware that we're down to two anaesthetists and after September we'll have one obstetrician in town.
"It's getting to the stage where we can't reliably staff rosters and services will start to be decreased.
"We're already heavily dependent on locum services ... at quite a huge cost.
"There are some simple areas where we could look at expansion and growth, we have people who want to move to the area and provide medical services and can't because they're unable to achieve positions at the hospital."
Dr Host said one of Bathurst's problems was the distance between the public hospital and the private hospital at Gormans Hill which made it difficult for clinicians to share their services efficiently across both.
There has been growing concern about a perceived disparity in health services between Bathurst and Orange.Report to councillors
Long-time Bathurst health advocate John Kellett also spoke about the importance of the clinical services plan, saying council had an important role to play in ensuring Bathurst's growing population had access to adequate health services.
"Proactive planning to ensure health infrastructure and services is of particular importance because it's very complex, there are large lead times and we also sit in the shadow of the considerable investment in Orange," Mr Kellett said.
Council will look to partner with NSW Health as part of a planning advisory group to ensure the views of the Bathurst community are heard.