RURAL health care was a major discussion topic at the Merriwa and Muswellbrook RSL Clubs for the ‘meet the candidates’ events last week.
Major topics included the doctors shortage and the unfinished Muswellbrook Hospital, with almost all candidates agreeing that more health funding is needed to attract doctors, finish infrastructures and provide health care services equal to those available in Sydney.
In order of initial appearance at Merriwa.
Sue Abbott, Greens candidate said hospitals are stretched and under resourced. She said she blames the coalition for not properly funding the public health system. “We’re all being pushed to get private health insurance, well there’s one insurance that should be seriously funded and thats Medicare,” Ms Abbott said. Ms Abbott said voters should be asking the coalition why it hasn’t funded the public health system and provided better health access. “It’s a disgrace, it’s a dereliction of a duty of care and it’s completely negligent. Every single country town is like one GP resignation away from a collapse in medical services – need national health service
Tracy Norman posed the question, “what are you going to do about it? Because health and education, I can’t remember an election since I’ve bene old enough to vote where they weren’t the two major considerations, yet people vote the same way, the same parties, the same governments that pass the buck from federal to state.” Ms Norman said given the current government situation, the best way to get better health outcomes it to vote for an Independent because, “we will be able to push and advocate for these things.”
Sue Gilroy said the Upper Hunter needs a model to attract people and health professionals to local communities. “They don’t want to come here, I know they’re stretched but we can’t get them into our communities to stay here. So what are we doing wrong?” she asked. “Obviously we need more money obviously, our health systems are substandard but the model needs to be looked at,” said Ms Gilroy. She said the ongoing issues in the health system needs to be addressed and agreed that decisions made in Sydney no longer suit the needs of the Upper Hunter.
Dale McNamara said if there’s better infrastructure, better hospitals, improved towns, it will attract doctors and families to live in Upper Hunter towns. “As I said, the money stays in Sydney and they get all the bells and whistles. That $1.1. billion in royalties every year, if we get that money, I believe we can make our community, the Upper Hunter, better towns . . . it’s international doctors eventually or get people in specialist fields to live in towns that have all the facilities you find in the cities,” said Mr McNamara.
Steve Reynolds said it comes down to better health care policy, liveability and having infrastructure available. “Having things for families to grow up in. People won’t come to this area if there’s no liveability, tourism, places for kids to get an education,” he said. Mr Reynolds said Muswellbrook has “half a shell there at the moment ” and the problem comes back to getting the money back to the Upper Hunter area. “It comes with a model, as Sue Gilroy said, we’ve got to work on that . . . things need to be looked at right across the board.” He said doctors should spend a minimum of three years in rural areas before heading back to the city.
Archie Lea talked about doctor who left Muswellbrook and went to Sydney. He said the Upper Hunter has clean air and is beautiful but is missing doctors. “If you complain long enough we can get dollar for dollar funds for more doctors and nurses,” he said. Mr Lea said doctors should come to the Upper Hunter from Sydney for minimum of four years as part of their experience building and training.
David Layzell said health care is a big challenge and referred to health care using a “the bricks and water” concept saying, “I’m a hospital builder and New South Wales is undertaking huge capital works program since the Coalition government took over from Labor.” Mr Layzell said during the last financial year, $900 million has been put towards hospitals, putting hospital builders at max capacity. “Certainly from an industry point of view, we’re really stretched, it’s busy times in NSW for hospital building,” he said. In relation to the skill shortage challenge Mr Layzell said there is a current inquiry on how to deal with the problem. “The government has put a huge amount of money, I think it’s $2.8 billion into getting more frontline resources into hospitals and increase the number of people working there,” he said. He said the Local Health District has good ideas and initiatives to get doctors and specialists into country hospitals. “But the reality is, the GPS coming into Sydney are not like the GPs we used to work with, they don’t want to work 16 hours days, around the clock. We’ve just got to get more GPs and the country regional training schools are the key,” said Mr Layzell.
Kirsty O’Connell said facts need to be put on the table. She said residents can no longer get epidural at Muswellbrook Hospital, which based on the most recent date, has the second highest rate of preventable deaths in the state. “In fact, you are three times more like to die of a preventable reason at Muswellbrook hospital than the best hospitals in the state and it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the staff, it’s because they’re not getting the resources to do their job right,” she said. Ms O’Connell said often patents are taken to Maitland Hospital, are discharged in the middle of the night and have no way home. She said the government should immediately fund good patient transport for all regional towns and villages in the electorate. “If we can incentivise someone to drive a dump truck, I’m pretty sure we can incentivise someone to come and work as a GP in a beautiful country town where they will become the heart and soul of the community, I think that’s possible,” she said. Mr O’Connell said the solution is to recruit country kids into medical degrees, create funding for internships and keep students who complete internships in country towns.
Eva Pears said it’s terrible these things are happing to services in rural communities. “It’s just disgraceful that people in these areas have to go to Sydney and beg for money for basic services but I really don’t think just talking about throwing funds at things is really the solution, where does that money come from, it’s other peoples money. If we looked more at shrinking the bureaucracy of the government itself, and that spending in that, that money can be redirected to other services,” said Ms Pears.
Jeff Drayton said the simple answer is the health system has been neglected. “It does require money unfortunately, it’d be lovely to fix it without throwing money and just good ideas at it but thats not going to happen . . . It does need dollars thrown at it, it needs attention,” he said. Mr Drayton said the attitude towards health care also need to change. “Health care is the state governments responsibility. One of the key roles is to make sure people are healthy. They’ve [Nationals] held the seat for ninety years so it’s interesting to hear the comments about the current health systems,” he said. Mr Drayton said the Upper Hunter is “missing out” compared to the volume of health services available in Sydney. “We need the same opportunity here,” he said. “It’s a federal issue, it’s semi-rural, I spoke to Joel Fitzgibbon and Brook Medical Centre about it last week . . . we’ll certainly take up,” said Mr Drayton.
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.