Rachel Forster Hospital Closure

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SpeakersForsythe The Hon Patricia


The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [12.09 a.m.]: Today as I read the Sydney Morning Herald article about some of the great and powerful men of Sydney and their desire to save St Vincent's Hospital it occurred to me that one of the great hospitals of Sydney, the Rachel Forster Hospital, will not have that support because it has principally been a hospital for women. It was built for women, for the advancement of women, and to serve women doctors. Honourable members cannot allow the demise of that hospital without fighting for its retention. To understand why it is necessary to retain the Rachel Forster Hospital is to understand its history. In 1922 the hospital was founded by six women who, in those days, could not complete their training in Australia because it was not considered proper for them to treat patients in a public hospital. They had to complete their training overseas. Having done so, they built the hospital and named it after Lady Forster, the wife of the Governor general.

The hospital has a long history of providing health services for women in New South Wales, but in the 1920s and 1930s it opened a venereal diseases clinic which was run by Dr Dalyell and combined medical care with intensive family counselling. A rheumatism clinic established by Dr Mary Bertram in the 1930s gave sophisticated treatment to children. In the 1940s the Diabetes Association was founded by the Vice-President of the Rachel Forster Hospital, Ms Ruby Board. Miss Board was the driving force behind the establishment of emergency diabetic clinics in five Sydney hospitals. In 1955 Dr Marjorie Dalgarno began a mammography clinic and breast research unit at Rachel Forster Hospital, the first unit of its kind in New South Wales. An arthritis clinic which was established in the 1960s specialised in bone and hip replacement. At Rachel Forster Hospital 75 of the 89 beds are devoted to arthritic and orthopaedic care. Facilities at the hospital include a hydrotherapy pool and care is provided by a team of physiotherapists, a social worker and an exceptionally dedicated team of visiting medical officers.

Rachel Forster has a low infection rate in hip replacements and bone and joint surgery. If Rachel Forster is to be transferred to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, as has been suggested, that low infection rate will not be maintained. Rachel Forster Hospital buildings are old but the hospital provides orthopaedic services for women. I and many other women would be devastated if the services and beds which are provided at that hospital are lost. Rachel Forster Hospital is the last public hospital that specialises in bone and joint treatment in Sydney since Ryde specialist unit was closed to public patients earlier this year. Rachel Forster Hospital is currently responsible for 1,200 of the 1,800 orthopaedic operations that are performed each year. People waiting for elective surgery will simply go on to waiting lists if Rachel Forster Hospital, a most important institution for elderly people needing joint surgery, closes. I am delighted that my colleague the honourable member for North Shore has taken such a high profile on this matter. I hope that all women members of the Legislative Council realise that this matter goes beyond party politics. Rachel Forster Hospital has a special place in the history of the treatment of women. It cannot be allowed to pass out of this State's history.

If great and famous men of Sydney are willing to fight for St Vincents, the women of Sydney are willing to fight for Rachel Forster. That wonderful hospital has played such an important part in the history of New South Wales that it cannot be allowed to simply die because of the decision of one doctor - a Minister - and of the Government. The decision to move to the inner west will result in the loss of a purpose built intensive care unit. [Time expired.]