Reprieve for Aboriginal health service


Community action stalls plans by GWAHS to axe frontline Indigenous health service.

The Greater Western Area Health Service (GWAHS) has postponed its planned decimation of services to the remote Aboriginal town of Goodooga following fierce community backlash.

NSWNA member and Goodooga Health Service RN Martha Waaka was initially devastated by the announcement but has since resolved to dig in and fight with the community to retain the service.

‘The community is frightened. It’s an ageing population here and people are very scared of what will happen if someone gets sick or has a heart attack,’ she said.

In July, the GWAHS gave the Goodooga Health Advisory Committee and staff two weeks notice of its plan to close the town’s primary health care service, leaving it without a registered nurse, ambulance or emergency services and replacing it with a telephone service.

The announcement has sent shock waves through the local community.

At a time when governments around the country are channelling resources into reducing the Indigenous life-expectancy gap, the GWAHS’ move has stunned Aboriginal groups and local politicians.

Steve Gordon, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council representative for the North West Region, called the planned cutback another ‘kick in the guts’ for Aboriginal people living in remote communities.

‘[This] means people who need urgent care will have to make a more than 150 kilometre round trip to Lightning Ridge,’ he told the Koori Mail.

‘It flies in the face of repeated statements by the State and Federal Governments that they were going to do more, not less, to improve Aboriginal health standards and life expectancy.’

The GWAHS has appointed an independent facilitator, Professor Shane Houston, to review the service’s future but has made no commitment to retaining the service.

Meanwhile, Martha Waaka has little confidence in the assurances of the GWAHS following the closure the town’s hospital in 1998.

‘That was pretty foul. It was like a dawn raid when we had only one bed occupied. The client was moved out and then they shut us down.

‘They gave us all these pieces of paper promising no future reduction in services, no removal of the RNs and so forth, and now they say they can’t take responsibility for what happened before.

‘With our doctor being the second oldest person in town, at 80 years of age, this is a disaster just waiting to happen.’

Martha described the effect on nurses’ morale as terrible and the prospect of a phone service as inadequate.

‘The GWAHS has no standard of practice regarding telephone triage and if I was on the other end of that phone I wouldn’t pick it up as I’m not trained and therefore not covered if something went wrong.

‘I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to the bureaucrats but these are real people with real needs.

‘I was planning on moving to the Northern Territory soon but if we win, no, when we win, I’ll commit for another three years because if

I go you know what will happen – without an RN they can close it all down.’