Lightning Ridge Hospital
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: I direct my question to the Minister for Health. Has Lightning Ridge Hospital been without a doctor for three months? Have the hospital's four inpatient beds been closed down? Are patients' lives at risk due to the lack of even one doctor at the hospital? Are the hospital's registered nurses in an untenable position? How many Royal Flying Doctor Service flights have to go in and out of Lightning Ridge each week? When will a doctor be appointed to the hospital? Have other Lightning Ridge doctors declined to work at the hospital under the contractual arrangement applying to the hospital's last doctor? Given the stresses under which staff at the Dubbo hospital are working without having to deal with patients flown in from places such as Lightning Ridge, will the Minister admit that this is another example of the rural health crisis in New South Wales?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: The last time a question was asked about Lightning Ridge was on 5 September and it was asked by the Hon. Rick Colless.
The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner: And the Minister still doesn't have an answer.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: I am going to provide an answer. The honourable member claimed that a patient arrived at the hospital needing treatment, that assistance was not available from Broken Hill and that a specialist had to be flown in from Sydney on a commercial flight to provide assistance. Following that question I had the opportunity to ask the Hon. Rick Colless for the exact date on which the alleged incident occurred. He told me during a division that it occurred on 3 September. I am now able to inform the House that a 64-year-old patient was treated by a registered nurse on that date.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: That is the answer to the question on notice. Why not answer today's question?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: I am providing this advice because it is important. The Royal Flying Doctor Service [RFDS] was contacted. All remote units in the Greater Western Area Health Service have an interagency policy on patient care, including working with referral hospitals. When they arrived, RFDS staff ordered a chest x-ray and ambulance assistance was provided in the event of possible degeneration of the patient's condition due to worsening emphysema. The RFDS staff then transported the patient to Dubbo. The other claims that were made in the question—the wildly inaccurate claims in relation to that patient, which were implicit in the question about Inverell—were inaccurate.
The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner: Inverell?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: I am sorry, not Inverell. Inverell was the subject of a question the Opposition asked me yesterday. That was also inaccurate. Yesterday—
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance. By the Minister's own admission, he is answering questions that were asked last week and yesterday, rather than answering the question he has been asked today. I request that you bring him back to the question that is before the House.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister is reminded that, although he is allowed to make general comments, his answer must be relevant.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: I will come to Inverell later. I am able to inform the House that Dr Aalders, who was at the Lightning Ridge Hospital as members would be aware, advised on 1 September that he was retiring from general practice. I informed the House about this matter in response to the question the Hon. Rick Colless asked me on the last occasion.
The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner: When will a new doctor be appointed? There has been no doctor there for three months. Does the Royal Flying Doctor Service fly in and out every week?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: When you are following events at Lightning Ridge from the coffee houses of Glebe, you obviously get these things wrong. In fact, I am able to inform the House that the Chief Executive of the Greater Western Area Health Service has advised—
The Hon. Duncan Gay: We were in Lightning Ridge last week. Where were you? We were there last week.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was in Lightning Ridge last week, he would know what happened; he would not be asking silly questions and making inaccurate comments. If members opposite were in Lightning Ridge last week, they would know that there has in fact been a locum doctor at Lightning Ridge Hospital. The locum has already commenced duties at the Lightning Ridge Multipurpose Health Service. I do not know what members opposite were doing in Lightning Ridge. They should be refunded their airfare, because they obviously wasted their time there by not researching their questions accurately. I will come to Inverell later.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I suggest that if members have further questions, they place them on notice.