Backdown on Murwillumbah cutbacks

Community opposition forces government back down on cuts to maternity services.

North Coast people-power has effected a dramatic stay of execution for Murwillumbah Hospital’s after-hours obstetrics services.

An estimated 6000 Tweed residents turned out alongside NSWNA members last month to protest the cuts – forcing a NSW Government about-face.

Following the protests, NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher told the ABC that Murwillumbah Hospital would ‘continue to deliver obstetric services 24 hours a day, seven days a week’.

NSWNA member Lianne Johnston, an RN who has worked at Murwillumbah Hospital for more than 22 years, described the massive turnout as ‘amazing’.

‘The most beautiful thing about it was the message of support from the community: how much they appreciate the hospital and what we do. People came from far and wide, we don’t even get those numbers at the [Tweed Valley] Banana Festival,’ she said.

The local paper described it as a clear message to the NSW Government and the North Coast Area Health Service – ‘hands off our hospital’.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes criticised the cuts in the fast-growing town and called on the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) to employ more staff.

‘Nurses are in support of maintaining these services but it will require an additional three full-time nursing positions to cover the required on-call shifts,’ he said.

‘Currently the service requires nurses to remain on-call outside award requirements, a situation that is clearly not in anyone’s best interests, and there needs to be sufficient staff available to maintain on-call rosters.

‘Any downgrading would put significant extra pressure on Tweed Hospital, which already operates at very high capacity,’ he said.

A spokesperson for the hospital support committee Dr Alan Secombe told the rally that there would be 40,000 more people moving to the area during the next 20 years.

‘We need to plan and work for that increase in population by building our hospital services, not cutting them,’ he told protesters,’ This is your hospital, not my hospital, not Chris Crawford’s [NCAHS Chief Executive], it is yours.’

It seems the people of Murwillumbah have no doubt about that.