Tumut Family Medical Centre Practice Manager Janette Wilson said she hopes the recent focus on health has helped the community realise how hard they are trying to find an anaesthetist.
Those within the industry know more than anyone how vital solving this problem is for the quality of health services in this town; how difficult it’s proving to find one is making them lose sleep.
However, she believes only good can have come from Monday’s public meeting with Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King.
“The meeting was purely just to raise the issue that we have, and by raising the issue then we can work towards getting a solution,” she said.
“We didn’t expect a solution to come out of it, but we just wanted to bring awareness to the community will know that we are trying. We just want to bring it to everyone’s attention how hard it is – that’s all we can do. We can’t pluck [an anaesthetist] out of the sky.”
During the meeting, Catherine King announced that Wagga hospital had arranged to pay for an anaesthetist for Tumut – but Ms Wilson said that wasn’t quite as useful as it sounded.
“Apparently they’ve got a petrol allowance for John [Curnow, the retired anaesthetist] to come from Jindabyne to do booked cases,” she said.
“I don’t know how often that would be. It still doesn’t solve our problem of having a full-time anaesthetist to cover our Level 3 hospital [one with surgical capabilities], which is required.”
So, what did come out of the meeting?
Federal member Mike Kelly said it helped him understand the issues Tumut and region are experiencing better, and that he will work with the NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, to try and find a solution.
“I did meet with Minister Hazzard and raised the health workforce issues in Tumut – his staff undertook to look into the matter,” he said.
“After the meetings on Monday with the clinicians and health administrators in Tumut and learning more of the specific problems I will be contacting his office again to pursue the matter.
“Labor wants to gain a better understanding about the direct impacts of the Turnbull Government’s cuts to the health system and the convoluted way they are deciding the classifications of District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) and an Area of Need (AON).
“I was pleased with the large turnout and the valuable feedback we received from the community. The meetings confirmed my views that Eden-Monaro is particularly vulnerable to the Liberal/National Government’s complete lack of understanding about the fragility of our rural and regional health systems.”
In the meantime, the lack of anaesthetist is having all sorts of flow-on effects.
According to Janette Wilson, there are two procedural registrar GPs, with obstetrics and anaesthetics training, who are very keen to make the move to Tumut. But without a full-time mentor already in town, they aren’t allowed to come.
“We tried to get them here to help them with their GP training, but because we don’t have a GP anaesthetist 24/7 in town, the training program won’t allow them to come,” she said.
For Hansie Armour, who owns the Connection Medical Centre, it may take getting industry onside to make any headway with the Federal bureaucracy. However, she believes Monday’s meeting was a good start.
“I think it was a good meeting,” she said.
“It didn’t feel political, and I was scared that it would be. I felt like I was genuinely listened to, and I think they really wanted to know what was wrong in our system.
“It is so entangled that it may take the major industries that make our community a special case – Snowy Hydro and Visy – it may require them taking it forward. I would encourage them to become involved, if they want their workforces to be safe. It’s their responsibility.”