Councillor Paul Cavalier has slammed NSW Health for what he describes as a 'archaic, dangerous and outright ludicrous' state of affairs in the ongoing absence of a doctor at Gulgong MPS.
Speaking to a motion put forward at the Wednesday, October 21 council meeting, Cr Cavalier shared his frustration at the lack of progress made replacing the doctor whose VMO contract was not renewed in June this year, leaving Gulgong MPS without a doctor since.
"I've moved a motion this evening because I believe Mid-Western Regional Council can do more about it and I thought it was important for me to explain why I think that is the case and how I think we should go about it," he said.
Two big questions
Paul touched on the tragic death of Gulgong woman Dawn Trevitt who died on September 16 at Gulgong MPS, leading her daughter to question the level of care being offered in regional health facilities.
"No doubt you've all heard the story of Dawn Trevitt, which was quite a sad story. She was a very well-known local in Gulgong, a teacher and well known in the community and she recently passed away at the Gulgong MPS from internal hemorrhaging. While the on-duty nurses did all they could under the guidance of a doctor on the telehealth system who was arguably hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from the MPS," he said.
"In the past few weeks I've spoken with quite a number of people including doctors and nurses who work within the system. Many of them very familiar with how this plays out in rural communities and also very familiar with these sorts of situations and the comment that was made to me by a number of them was that they wouldn't dare speak out about it obviously given they were employed by NSW Health for fear of the implications that would have on their employment.
"While I'm not privy to the discussions that have been had or the ongoing negotiations that have been taking place with the doctor that is in Gulgong who's offered VMO services to the MPS, I'm still left asking myself two questions...
"The first one is, why was the existing contract allowed to lapse when NSW Health had to have known the situation that it would put the community of Gulgong in?
"Surely there was an opportunity there, if NSW Health had no intention of renewing the contract it certainly would have had the opportunity to extend the contract and continue it on until such time that a more suitable arrangement was reached.
"Secondly, why was no temporary contract put in place given we've now seen people who are quite literally dying at Gulgong MPS and that doctor that we know of in Gulgong has publicly indicated that he in a position to provide those services?
"There's really only two options here. One, is the provision of health services is fundamentally guided by financial implications alone or the doctor in Gulgong that's offering to provide VMO services to the community simply isn't willing to provide them.
"Now I don't believe that is the case."
A broken system
Cr Cavalier said he believes the admission by the Federal Health Minister Brad Hazzard that something needs to be done is the sign of a broken system.
"If there's nothing else that tells us that there's something fundamentally broken in the system, the admission by the Federal Minister that there is such a case is probably all that we need to hear. NSW Health has continually told us that - and cited - difficulties in attracting doctors to rural areas as one of the major roadblocks in solving the situation that we find ourselves in Gulgong," he said.
"While I understand that that problem probably does exist I certainly know that many other state government departments tend to be able to offer 24-hour coverage for the services that they provide. Now an example of that would be would be the NSW Ambulance or Fire and Rescue NSW. When you ring 000 24-hours a day, seven days a week, you'll get four firefighters on the ground or two paramedics.
"No matter where you are in the state you're guaranteed that.
"Now it seems that the same guarantee can't be made of a doctor in a multi-million dollar health facility and that to me seems archaic, dangerous and outright ludicrous in current times."
We've had four months of this in Gulgong now, we've had no doctor on the ground. We've seen that people die, there is clearly an issue and we need to do something about it.
Cr Cavalier said he understood that a telehealth system has its place, but disagreed with NSW Health's position that it's only a partial replacement if it's the primary system in place while there is no doctor present.
"You can argue as much as you want that telehealth is not a replacement and it's a supplement to physical doctors working on the ground in these hospitals, but when it's being used precisely for that purpose, then that's actually exactly what it is," he said.
"You can sell it however you want but it is what it is. We've had four months of this in Gulgong now, we've had no doctor on the ground. We've seen that people die, there is clearly an issue and we need to do something about it.
"Now I know that everybody in the room is saying 'it's really a state government issue, why is local government involved?' I totally agree. I have no question whatsoever that this is a state government issue and that they should be dealing with it.
"But as far as I'm concerned when we are aware that the state government is failing the people within our community, we have a moral obligation to speak up and do something about it. Because we know the state government is not actually doing enough to fix this problem."
Cr Cavalier ended with a sobering reminder that a capable doctor was likely close-by when Dawn Trevitt died in Gulgong MPS.
"Conceivably, there was a doctor only minutes away... but they could not be called upon to provide assistance in a life-threatening situation simply because there was no contract in place to allow it happen," he said.
"That's unacceptable on every level."
What do you think?Share your thoughts with us for publishing in print and online.