SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS HEALTH SERVICES
Ms PRU GOWARD (Goulburn) [5.18 p.m.]: I draw the attention of the House to health services in the Southern Highlands. A fortnight ago the shadow Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, spent a day in my electorate. She had heard much from me about Bowral hospital and its position at the end of the food chain as far as Sydney South West Area Health Service is concerned, so she was keen to visit and meet local residents and medical personnel to get some firsthand input. In the morning we met with a number of people concerned about the deterioration in service standards at the hospital and, following the application of the member for North Shore to the health Minister we were granted a tour of Bowral hospital with the general manager, Denis Thomas. In the afternoon we attended a public meeting I had called to meet constituents and listen to their concerns. We met a number of staff during our tour and there is no doubt our hospital is blessed by having extremely competent, hardworking and committed people working there.
Bowral Hospital has a very loyal consultative support group made up of community members who act more or less as liaison between the community and the hospital. This is a very good idea, in theory at least, but in practice, the group is bound by confidentiality and, as such, is as much controlled by the New South Wales Government as is the hospital's general manager. The public meeting was a forum for people to not only voice their concerns but also to put forward suggestions for improving local health services. The meeting was unanimous in its support for, and faith in, the expertise and dedication of the medical staff.
Despite the flagging morale of the career medical officers, whose working conditions were changed without consultation, not a single person at the meeting—and more than 100 people were there—complained about the medical treatment they had received. What they did complain about was the appalling access to services, including the lack of psychiatric beds and the many occasions on which they were turned away and sent elsewhere. Today we heard in this House the shocking story of Gregor Gniewosz, who underwent an amputation as a result of picking up an infection in Liverpool Hospital. He also emerged from the public meeting. I refer also to the hospital's children's ward. The Minister for Health circulated a media release in which he stated, correctly I understand, that the new children's ward at Bowral Hospital was on track for completion later this year. He said:
This is a tremendous result for the local community, which has been so supportive in ensuring children and their families have access to a facility that reflects today's needs. The community has been more than supportive.
That would have to be the understatement of the year. The community forced this refurbishment. The BDCU Children's Foundation began lobbying for this ward some five years ago. The area health service pontificated, promised, prevaricated and postponed but the foundation continued to raise money in the hope that the Minister for Health and the Sydney South West Area Health Service could eventually be dragged kicking and screaming to a point that it would provide a children's ward with facilities that would actually contribute to the recovery of ill children. The foundation, which to date has raised $330,000, and everyone in the community who has supported and driven the concept of the new children's ward have been a great deal more than just supportive. In the same media release, the Minister for Health said:
Local services are very important to the New South Wales community and they are the door to the excellence of the entire health system.
Again, I could not agree more. Why then has there been a determination made by New South Wales Health to direct complicated orthopaedic procedures away from Bowral Hospital? Does the Minister feel that local orthopaedic specialists are not expert enough to deal with complicated procedures or, as is most likely the case, is there a financial reason of some sort for this decision? In a notice circulated by the Ambulance Service, ambulance officers have been informed that Bowral Hospital will no longer deal with orthopaedic assessment for serious fracture injuries such as pelvis, long bones and neck of femur fractures. Ambulance officers will now have to take those patients out of the local area, probably to Liverpool. I understand that neck of femur fractures are most common in the elderly, and with a growing population of elderly residents in the Southern Highlands it beggars belief that they should be shipped out of the area, away from their support network, to a hospital located more than an hour away by car. I will not go into how long it would take to reach Liverpool Hospital by train. That is a subject for another private member's statement.
Top-of-the-range orthopaedic specialists work at Bowral Hospital. The decision to direct complicated orthopaedic procedures away from Bowral Hospital is offensive to the local service and is an erosion of the specialist facilities we have in Bowral. The community has formed a group that is not beholden to the State Government. It will not be bound by confidentiality. It will include members of the public, medical personnel, allied health personnel and ancillary staff to help lobby the Government. It will be a force to be reckoned with. I congratulate Di Hurdwell, a local resident who stood up at the public meeting and offered to form this pressure group on what I am sure will be a great initiative.