Frank Simonson, of Merimbula has questioned whether the Pambula hospital can ever achieve a return to services given that there has been an insistence that no services can be performed at the hospital if they are also performed at the new Bega hospital.
A member of the Pambula Hospital Committee, Dr Simonson has grown increasingly frustrated with the time it has taken to get any return of services to the hospital.
“People would like to see basic hospital care at Pambula but it’s not going to happen. We’ve been told we can’t duplicate anything that’s being done at Bega. There’s no point in continuing if that’s the case.”
It’s a point that Sharon Tapscott, president of SOHI (Save Our Hospital) and a member of the PHC, concedes is an issue.
“Every hospital is a duplication of another hospital. If they don’t want us to duplicate services then they need to build a god almighty hospital in the middle of Australia and we’ll all go there,” she said.
But chairman of the PHC, Russell Fitzpatrick is more upbeat and wants to focus on what has been achieved so far. He is keen to see an increase in the community’s involvement with the hospital both as patients and also as volunteers to help decorate and improve parts of the public areas.
He believes that public pressure has resulted in greater theatre use.
“We’ve got six lists in six weeks; it’s the highest it’s ever been. The PHC is there to try and get the best results for the community.”
Member for Bega, Andrew Constance agrees.
“Like Frank I would like to see things happening more quickly but the Local health District has had to wrestle with an $18 million deficit. Our first challenge was to work damn hard to keep the doors open and now we want to increase the throughput in the theatre.”
Mr Constance admitted that there were still some bureaucrats who thought that Pambula hospital should close.
“We’re starting to make real inroads, we have some wonderful managers including Heather Austin who is very open. We’re getting a response that we haven’t seen for a long time and we have a lot of positives happening. Frank (Simonson) is doing a great job and it is important that the Local Health District is engaged with him because of his knowledge of the area,” Mr Constance said. “I am more comfortable about the future of Pambula hospital than I was 12 or 18 months ago.”
PHC members have taken considerable comfort from the change of attitude by management at the hospital and in the area health service but there remains frustration that many of the items on Pambula hospital’s to do list haven’t happened.
It is unfortunate that the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner appeared to think that they had been implemented when she sent a letter to Bega Valley Shire Council listing the government’s achievements in returning services to the hospital. In a letter to Mrs Skinner, Mrs Tapscott was quick to point out that the specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist was a locum doctor from Bega who visited fortnightly and that post natal had not been implemented.
Mrs Tapscott called post natal a “pseudo post natal service, more of a mother’s respite service”.
“If Jillian Skinner says that there is a post natal service she is mistaken,” Mrs Tapscott said.
Each issue is complex to unravel, often bedevilled by funding, staffing or protocol dilemmas.
In the case of post natal care a mother and baby cannot be admitted if the baby needs attention. There are no midwives allocated to the service which would require three to cover the three daily shifts over each 24 hours. And with the no extra money available, it’s not possible to fund the service.
Mr Fitzpatrick agrees that progress is slow and “there are issues around post natal”.
“Dr Nigel Lyons (the deputy director of health) did recommend that the service be provided. That initial recommendation had to be negotiated with doctors and the nurses association in order to ensure a safe service would work and this has taken considerable time.”
It is understood that there are issues around staff rostering and working across different job duties.
It is something though that Mr Constance hasn’t given up on and said that he is working behind the scenes to resolve.
Mr Fitzpatrick cites strong community support for the hospital, and a drive towards getting a bigger emergency department. A recent fund-raiser made over $5000 towards a central console for the emergency department and the Pambula Branch of the Bendigo Community Bank has donated around $35,000 for a new operating table.
“I would like to get the emergency department done up and made more functional and increase use of the theatre,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
Despite the increased list at the theatre it, and in particular ophthalmic surgery, is still an issue, according to Dr Simonson.
Prior to surgery taking place at Pambula, patients would have to travel to Batemans Bay where they would see Philip Larkin. Alternatively they could be treated privately by Barry Den at Bega Private Hospital. It was Dr Den who won the contract to run a list at Pambula but some local GPs are still referring patients to Dr Larkin. Dr Simonson believes Dr Larkin should also be allowed to operate a list at Pambula.
“It would cost the same and he hasn’t been able to do that and I don’t understand why it can’t take place.”
It means getting a list transferred from Batemans Bay Hospital to Pambula, Mr Fitzpatrick explained. “There are a lot still going to Batemans Bay and if we could get the list moved it would mean running another list every second month,” he said.
It is something though that Mr Constance believes can happen.
“We are hoping to get another list going with another surgeon; we like to see choice,” he said.
Mrs Tapscott said that if patients want to have their ophthalmic or minor orthopaedic surgery at Pambula they needed to tell their GPs.
The future of Pambula hospital remains uncertain according to Dr Simonson.
“There is an expectation from the community that Pambula will function as a hospital. If you have a pain in your chest you want to go somewhere close. Another 35 minutes down the road while you clutch your chest isn’t fun. The major population is here and this is where the tourists come. People want to be able to have their children in a hospital close to them and their families,” he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick believes it is important to continue along the path the committee has taken.
“If we can get theatre use up to two days a week and the emergency department enlarged we’ll be on our way. This will allow us to implement tele health. There are some good outcomes and we are making inroads,” he said.
Mrs Tapscott said: “We are making plans for the future because the critical time will be when the new hospital opens.”