6000 can't be wrong -- Hospital protest

MORE than 6000 Tweed residents demonstrated during a march through Murwillumbah's CBD on Saturday that they are not willing to let their maternity ward at the Murwillumbah District Hospital slip silently into the night.

Parents, grandparents and children of the hospital from all corners of the shire -- Crystal Creek, Burringbar, Stokers Siding, Chillingham, Pottsville, Mt Burrell, Uki and Casuarina -- took to the streets with a clear message to the NSW government and North Coast Area Health Service: Hands Off Our Hospital.

The proud crowd of hospital supporters cheered loudly, chanting and displaying hundreds of banners and signs of support for the hospital as they marched from Mt St Patrick sports fields on Queensland Road at noon, down Wharf Street before stopping at the town clock.

Business owners and onlookers stood on the side of the street to watch the march that brought traffic around the town to a standstill.

Both Tweed Police and State Emergency Services were on hand to keep the traffic clear for the march.

Gathering on the corner of Queen and Main streets speakers, including Murwillumbah Hospital Support Committee chairman Ian Ross, Murwillumbah doctors Graham Higgins and Dr Alan Secombe, former hospital CEO Des Ireland and Lismore MP Thomas George and Tweed MP Geoff Provest, addressed the masses. Mr Ross said he was shocked at the number of supporters that had turned out to support their local hospital even after the rally was postponed the previous Saturday5/7 due to rain.

"It is absolutely wonderful to see you all here today," Mr Ross said. "I had only estimated 700 people to attend."

The spokesperson for the doctors and the hospital support committee, Dr Secombe, spoke on how important the hospital has been and will be to past, present and future generations of Tweed residents.

"If they go through with their cut-backs, a woman in advanced stages of pregnancy who develops a sudden complication after hours will not be able to be looked after at the Murwillumbah hospital," Dr Secombe said.

"Instead, the person looking after the patient will have to get on the phone, find somewhere for the patient to go, get an ambulance and then get her from Murwillumbah to wherever she will end up. It is stressful and it will be dangerous."

Dr Secombe said the Murwillumbah hospital was one of the best in the state.

"A survey done last year shows that Murwillumbah hospital is the most effective hospital in the North Coast Area Health Service region," he said.

"There are going to be 40,000 more people coming here over the next 20 years. We need to plan and work for that increase in population by building our hospital services, not cutting them.

"This is your hospital, not my hospital, not Chris Crawford's, it is yours."

Former hospital CEO Des Ireland labelled the proposed cutbacks as "madness".

"The occupancy rate at The Tweed Hospital is frequently over 100 per cent. How can services be transferred there if they are full," Mr Ireland said.

"People are already in corridors there, but there is a hospital 20 minutes down the road that has the capacity to take these people."

Mr Ireland also called for those at the rally to email NSW minister for health Reba Meagher.

"Follow it up week after week until you get a response," he said.

"These downgrades may be okay for places where the population is declining, but not in a massive growth area like here." Local members Mr George and Mr Provest said they fully support the maternity ward and will fight to see its services upgraded, not downgraded.

"I will be surprised if the NSW government do not get the message today," Mr George said.

"You have delivered the strongest message you could."

Mr George also compared the downgrades to hospitals in Casino, Kyogle and Nimbin to the ones currently facing Murwillumbah. "This is not new to me. People who live an hour west of Casino have to travel all the way to Lismore hospital, but it is overcrowded as well," he said.

"I do not want to see the same thing happen with Murwillumbah."

Mr Provest echoed Mr George's statement.

"Murwillumbah hospital needs to be upgraded, not downgraded," he said. "I am making a pledge to you to fight for this hospital."

Mr Provest said he and Mr George will work to maintain the hospital services.

"This is a day that Murwillumbah stood up and said they have had enough," he said. "It is going to be a long and hard battle but our hospital deserves it."



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