PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
WYONG HOSPITAL OBSTETRIC SERVICES
Mr CRITTENDEN (Wyong) [4.15 p.m.]: I refer to the Wyong Hospital, to the improvements that have occurred there over the past two years, and to one of the problems that has emerged in recent times, the commissioning of the obstetrics unit. Since April 1995 the following service developments have been introduced: geriatric services, February 1996; the commencement of pre-administration clinics, February 1996; four monitored beds in the surgical ward, April 1996; the phased introduction of 24-hour surgery, seven days a week, completed on 20 January 1997; the 24-hour availability of X-ray services, February 1997; and a 10-bed surgical short-stay unit, opened in April 1997.
Since the Government came to office two years ago, the following medical specialist appointments have been made: a vascular/general surgeon commenced in June 1995; a second anaesthetist commenced in August 1995; a third obstetrician and gynaecologist commenced in January 1996; a third anaesthetist commenced in May 1996; a radiologist commenced in May 1996; a general practitioner commenced in November 1996; a general physician/gastroenterologist commenced in April 1997; and a part-time rehabilitation specialist commenced in April 1997. Interviews have been conducted for the position of director of the accident and emergency department, and an offer has been made to the successful applicant.
An advertising campaign commenced for a replacement obstetrician and gynaecologist because Dr Neil Wallman - who commenced duty in January 1996 as the third anaesthetist/obstetrician - resigned from the service just as the obstetrics facility was to commence this month. Dr Wallman's resignation is effective from 21 April and it has led to a great deal of concern in the community. As many honourable members know, a significant demographic feature of the Wyong region is the number of women of child-bearing age, and the obstetrics facility is something that all members of the community have worked towards. The Government has provided the money for the facility as outlined previously, including money for obstetrics and gynaecology. Wyong Hospital has gone forward in terms of medical specialist appointments and service developments.
Apparently the Central Coast Area Health Service has advertised for a replacement for Dr Wallman, who has decided to conduct a private practice outside the public hospital system. It has advertised for a visiting medical officer or staff specialist - the reference number is 97/072 - and applications close on 25 April, Anzac Day. I hope that an obstetrician/gynaecologist will come forward and fill the position. The Central Coast Area Health Service advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald for that position on 6 March and 20 March and in the Weekend Australian on 8 March and 22 March. Also, the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has advertised in the college's bulletin for any specialist who may be interested in this position. We were all geared up for the opening of the new unit; equipment was arriving and significant recruitment had been undertaken to ensure that all staff, including nursing staff, were available.
I am advised by Dr De Carvalho, the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Central Coast Area Health Service, that the number of midwives or nursing staff required for the Wyong facility is 15 full-time equivalent positions. That advertisement was placed in February and 11 people responded; nine were deemed suitable and, fortunately, as five out of the nine are already employees of the area health service, their services will be able to be retained. Obviously we cannot hire the four other applicants yet, but I am assured that nursing staff will not be a problem when we get the specialist - [Time expired.]
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.20 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Wyong for raising this important issue of obstetric services in Wyong. The Central Coast Area Health Service and health professionals of Wyong Hospital have been working tirelessly to prepare for the opening of the new Wyong obstetric unit. The commissioning was planned for April this year. From the outset it should be clear that this is not an issue of funding, it is an issue of recruitment. The work that has been done in preparation for the opening has involved infrastructure and work force enhancement. Some of this preparation has included the recruitment of medical and nursing staff, improving radiology, pathology and theatre availability, the ultimate aim being the establishment of a high-quality health service that provides services seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to the women of Wyong, their families and friends. Unfortunately, the resignation of one of the three obstetricians has meant the opening must be delayed.
The expertise of staff is vital for any quality health service and any shortfall in staffing will undermine the service's ability to care appropriately for patients. The safety of patients is our number one priority. It is now a matter for the Central Coast Area Health Service to vigorously work on recruiting an obstetrician so that the service can begin as soon as possible. I am advised that the area health service has advertised in major newspapers without delay. In addition, the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has been advised and will be notifying its members via its professional bulletin this month. I am confident that the area health service will make every effort to have the Wyong unit functioning as soon as possible. I am confident also that many an obstetrician would find a position on the central coast one of excitement and opportunity as Wyong Hospital and the area continue to grow.
The Carr Government has shown its commitment to the people of the central coast and will continue to do so. The opening of a new five-day surgical unit will occur this month, a 24-hour emergency theatre commenced in January and a new emergency director position has been recently advertised. The situation at Wyong Hospital will be closely monitored and I will ensure that every effort is made to hasten the recruitment process so that the community of Wyong can benefit from this long awaited service.