6 October 2021

Rural health inquiry hears overstretched Eurobodalla health system puts babies at risk

| Katrina Condie
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Dr Michael Holland has told the rural health inquiry that he is regularly on call for 96 hours at a time and up to 264 hours when covering weekends . Photo: Region Media

Obstetrician Dr Michael Holland has told the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into rural health that he is regularly on call for 96 hours at a time and up to 264 hours when covering weekends. Photo: Region Media.

Eurobodalla doctor Michael Holland has told the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into rural health that a dangerous shortage of paediatric and maternity services, and a system relying on overstretched and exhausted doctors, poses a risk of neonatal fatalities in the region.

The senior clinician and Eurobodalla’s only obstetrician addressed the inquiry yesterday (Wednesday 6 October), revealing a “deterioration in the provision of safe maternal and neonatal care” in the region which has “reached a crisis point.”

Dr Holland told the virtual hearing that he was regularly on call for 96 hours at a time and up to 264 hours when covering weekends. He called for “immediate improvement in health services and equity of services in the new Eurobodalla hospital.”

“The capital funding for a new regional hospital is inadequate and will result in reduced bed numbers specifically in maternity, neonatal and paediatrics,” he said in his opening statement.

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Dr Holland said the Eurobodalla community had “been disappointed by the rejection of funding for local radiation oncology services specifically designated for our region” and the shire’s clinical and social needs exceeded neighbouring regions that already have level four hospitals.

“Emergency presentations are 65 per cent greater and admissions are 25 per cent greater than our neighbouring hospitals,” he said. “The maternity service has the largest number of births for a rural maternity service in the SNSWLHD.

“Despite this, our community remains disadvantaged and will remain disadvantaged on the opening of the new regional hospital.”

Dr Holland said the capital funding for a new regional hospital was “inadequate” and would result in reduced bed numbers, specifically in maternity, neonatal and paediatrics.

The hearing also heard from Cathie Hurst, who recalled her harrowing experience travelling interstate for cancer services that could not be accessed in the region.

Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park said the testimony and submissions to the inquiry had revealed the NSW Government failed to apply for Federal Government funding that was made available for a local radiation therapy service.

“A radiation therapy service was promised to the people of the Eurobodalla to reduce the need for travel to the ACT but has been denied by the NSW Government,” he said.

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“There is no permanent paediatrician in the Eurobodalla and the community is regularly left without a qualified neonatal specialist to respond to paediatric emergencies, putting babies’ lives at risk.”

Mr Park claimed the government had “repeatedly ignored cries for help from senior clinicians in the Eurobodalla.”

“This is a government that is satisfied to transfer patients around the state instead of providing the services where they are needed,” he added.

Senior clinicians, including Dr Holland, have refused to endorse the design brief for maternity, neonatal, paediatric and emergency services at the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.

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Shelley Condon8:36 am 09 Oct 21

We moved to the area from the Shoalhaven in December. As a mother of three asthmatic children, all whom have complicated respiratory history as well as a child that has had brain surgery in the last 12 months, this highly concerns me. We are still unable to find a local GP so travel to Nowra for appointments! Let alone needing sudden peadiatric services here. It’s concerning! We’ve already had an ambulance trip out of state to Canberra and a hospital stay there as well as weekly appointments for 6 weeks as our services here are inadequate. This area services a very large and diverse community. We require cancer treatment services and pregnancy/peadiatric services to be improved. I have walked the cancer journey with my page mother. Travel for treatment is gruelling. It takes up any reserves of energy they have. We should be fighting for the best services possible!

Batemans Bay and Moruya hospitals are at breaking point. Understaffed and under resourced. Staff are going on stress leave or are finding jobs elsewhere. Patient care has been sacrificed in order to meet budget constraints. Our hospitals will not cope if a major Covid outbreak occurs and patients need to be hospitalised.
We need a new hospital with funding that will allow provision of safe healthcare to our growing population and the increased numbers of visitors that our area attracts.

Agree Martha well said

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