A Moruya doctor says NSW Health has cut the number of beds intended for the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital, which will replace Moruya District Hospital and Batemans Bay Hospital on the South Coast.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Michael Holland was involved in developing the new clinical services plan for the $200 million hospital at Moruya.
The March 2020 plan endorsed 165 overnight and day beds, including six paediatric beds, 16 emergency department beds and four maternity beds.
While this meant an increase in overnight and day beds from the 111 available at Moruya and Batemans Bay Hospitals, the number of maternity beds would be less than the seven available at Moruya.
There was also no increase in the number of operating and procedure rooms, despite the fact the new hospital is intended to provide level four intensive care; emergency, general and acute medicine; general surgery; gynaecology and maternity services; and level three neonatal and paediatric medicine and surgery.
According to Dr Holland, local medical staff have been told the wards will be reduced by eight inpatient and 10 outpatient beds.
The number of maternity beds will also be reduced from four to three, paediatric beds from six to four and emergency department beds from 13 to 12.
“No sooner than the ink was dry on the 2020 Eurobodalla Health Service Clinical Services Plan, it was altered, if not erased,” Dr Holland said.
“It is not recognisable as a plan to deliver level-four clinical services to the population of the Eurobodalla.”
The Eurobodalla Shire has the second-largest population in the Southern NSW Local Health District and the second-highest number of births outside Queanbeyan.
The region also has the highest number of older and Indigenous residents.
“The emergency department sees over 30,000 presentations compared to 19,000 at South East Regional Hospital (in Bega) and 23,000 at Queanbeyan,” Dr Holland said. “It is counterintuitive that a population of this size, with the consequent high number of clinical services, would have beds and proposed services reduced.
“Using maternity services as an example, 380 women per year book to give birth within the Eurobodalla, which receives women and babies from Milton to Ulladulla, to Bermagui and Cobargo.
“Approximately 330 births occur locally. An increase to level four maternity and level three neonatal services would reverse the transfer of nearly half of those women and babies outside the region.”
Eurobodalla’s health service currently sends more than 40 per cent of all patients to hospitals outside the region because services cannot be provided locally.
Dr Holland said NSW Health’s new plan could also mean there won’t be a paediatric service to care for the region’s children as the reduction of paediatric beds will make it difficult to recruit paediatricians and paediatric nurses.
“The waiting time for paediatric consultations is already 12 to 18 months on the South Coast,” he said.
Dr Holland is also concerned about the level of care for patients requiring surgery due to fewer inpatient and outpatient beds.
“If the health service is to provide the increased number of surgical procedures by reversal of flow of breast cancer surgery, colorectal surgery, general surgery and orthopaedics, how will the same number of operating theatres and a reduction of surgical beds allow for this?” he asked.
“How will the Eurobodalla keep the medically unwell patients without a physician-led, close observation service and an intensive care specialist-led ICU?
“The answer is a proposed Coastal Network Plan, which has not been seen by doctors, nurses or midwives. A plan that the community has not been consulted on.”
Dr Holland said the Coastal Network Plan will continue to send Eurobodalla residents outside the region for health care.
“The population of the Bega and Eurobodalla Shires both require the provision of high quality, timely and accessible health services,” he said.
“Cutting beds and services in the revision of the Eurobodalla Health Service Clinical Services Plan and directing the population of the Eurobodalla to Bega is not the answer.
“The answer is the adequate funding for capital works and operational costs for doctors, nurses, midwives, allied health and hospital service staff at both sites.”
The NSW Government announced the site for the new hospital in December 2020 and work is expected to commence soon.
NSW Health has been contacted for comment.