The Bathurst Health Services Action Group has written to Member for Bathurst Paul Toole with its concerns about the city's health services.
THE Bathurst Health Services Action Group is learning about serious deficiencies in health services provided to the people of Bathurst, who are telling us their stories.
I also have my own experience to relate.
Let me be clear - there is no criticism of health workers who are doing their best with the resources and facilities they are provided. However, the system needs a major overhaul and Bathurst needs more funding.
It beggars belief that the people of the Bathurst region do not have similar levels of service than those in Orange or Dubbo, despite being in the same local health district.
The catchment area of Bathurst is as big as the other centres, yet too many patients are sent to Orange for basic services and often stranded there after treatment. This is unacceptable. It might be better than it has been in the past, but it is still not good enough.
For example, why did the truck driver whose vehicle rolled at a city roundabout have to be taken straight past Bathurst Base Hospital to be treated for "abrasions and a headache" in Orange (Western Advocate, July 1)?
We are told Orange is designated for treatment of patients that cross the trauma threshold, but why not Bathurst? Are the trauma criteria being used to justify sending more people to Orange? There are many more examples.
Why must people of Bathurst be sent to Orange for broken bones received during weekend sport, or aged people receiving treatment for broken limbs, or any patient with broken bones that doesn't trigger the trauma criteria?
Why are people of Bathurst sent home to wait until they can get in at Orange? For these transfers to Orange, when does the clock on waiting times start - on presentation to Bathurst Hospital or on admission to Orange?
Another comparison applies to MRI services. In Bathurst, there is one MRI machine operating in the private sector with very limited access by public health patients. I'll say that again - one MRI machine for the Bathurst region. Orange has three. Dubbo is getting a third. Lithgow is getting one. It means people have to make it to Orange for an MRI, which cannot be justified.
It is not just the time and cost to transport a patient to Orange. There is a huge personal and social cost to the community that the health system does not take into account.
This includes the significant impact of the families of Bathurst people who are sent to Orange. It includes having to return to Orange for clinics or follow up treatment. It should all be available in Bathurst.
The number of people attending medical appointments at Bathurst from Lithgow, which is within the Nepean Health District, is underestimated by the authorities.
There is talk in the community that Bathurst would be better off leaving the Western NSW Local Health District and joining Nepean, such is the level of frustration.
Another frustration is that Orange hospital is sometimes too full to take Bathurst patients, creating serious delays and uncertainty.
Getting to Orange relies on the road being open, which is another risk to the people of Bathurst, whether it is because of a motor vehicle accident or bad weather.
A critical mass of specialists is urgently required in Bathurst. It is not just to provide the minimum level of services which a region the size and status of Bathurst deserves.
Without it, the Bathurst private hospital might suffer because it makes it more difficult to attract specialists that work in both sectors.
Contraction of either the public or private hospital services in Bathurst cannot be allowed to occur because of underfunding of the public hospital.
The action group has identified blatant shortfalls in many areas: emergency orthopaedics, anaesthetics, respiratory specialists, cardiology, obstetrics and gynaecology, gastric specialists, ophthalmology, vascular surgery, urology, palliative care, ear, nose and throat doctors, and emergency specialists.
We are told that many positions are filled by locum doctors, which at least plugs a gap, but does not provide stability and certainty in the medical workforce and is an inefficient use of funds.
Making sure there are sufficient doctors and specialists is one thing, but there also needs to be enough beds, nursing staff and support equipment for them to do their work effectively.
How often are there beds available in Bathurst but patients still get transferred to Orange because specialists, support workers and particular pieces of equipment are not available?
The Bathurst jail will soon house many more inmates. The Bathurst hospital must be equipped and staffed to handle inmate patients. Transporting them to Orange would be ridiculous.
The people of Bathurst have seen service reviews before and do not see much improvement. In fact, there is evidence that services have declined despite a growing population.
It is time to properly address these specific shortfalls. In addition to these short-term issues, there also needs to be a commitment to the long-term future of health services and facilities in Bathurst - a commitment that must be held accountable.