Hospital downgrade would harm villagers
By ED SOUTHORN EMERGENCY patients from Tweed Valley villages could be the biggest losers if Murwillumbah District Hospital is downgraded or closed, according to figures from the Tweed Economic Development Corporation. But the figures also show some patients on the Tweed Coast could get to The Tweed Hospital at Tweed Heads quicker, or in about the same time, as they would take to get to Murwillumbah. For Tyalgum patients, travel time would increase, from about 24 minutes to get to Murwillumbah compared to 50%minutes to get to Tweed Heads. For Chillingham, Uki and Stokers Siding patients, travel times would increase, from about 13%minutes to get to Murwillumbah compared to around 40 minutes to get to Tweed Heads. Although TEDC chief Tom%Senti did not claim the increase in travel times would put the lives of hospital patients at risk, he said travel distances and times, and population growth, should definitely be given serious consideration before any decisions are made about the long-term future of Murwillumbah Hospital. The TEDC, which regularly conducts demographic surveys to assist Tweed Shire Council and the NSW government with forward planning, yesterday released estimated travel times for patients heading to the Murwillumbah hospital and The Tweed Hospital in preliminary findings from an assessment of the impact of an ageing population on the Tweed's economy. "The Tweed is not only one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia, but Tweed Shire has been identified by the local government and shires associations as the fourth-oldest population area in NSW," Mr Senti said. "Any decision about the possible relocation or gradual downgrading of some of the services offered by Murwillumbah hospital should encompass the needs and location of future%population growth centres on the Tweed, as well as transport infrastructure," he said. "The Tweed Hospital is already servicing parts of south-east Queensland, and the pressure to continue providing this service can only increase. "This raises a range of infrastructure and servicing issues, including any decision to move existing Murwillumbah services to Tweed Heads. "In the case of medical emergencies, travel distances and times should certainly be a consideration, and it should be kept in mind that Murwillumbah already services a population catchment of 18,233 people, not just the%population of the immediate town centre." Mr Senti said the TEDC's estimated travel times for the two hospitals did not include the time required for ambulances to reach patients in the hinterland villages, and did not take into account peak-hour traffic nor traffic bottlenecks at Sexton Hill and Minjungbal Drive. The Save the Murwillumbah Hospital Committee has indicated it plans to write to North Coast Area Health Service chief Chris Crawford seeking assurances about the future of the Murwillumbah hospital. This comes in the wake of anger from hospital staff and community groups about plans to downgrade the hospital, before a health service backflip put the plans on hold. Factbox Trip to Mur-bah Getting to Murwillumbah" hospital from:" Tyalgum (Swifts Rd) Approx. 23km and 24 minutes travel time. Chillingham (Zara Rd) 16km, 13 min. Uki (Kyogle Road) 15km, 13 min. Stokers Siding (Tunnel Rd) 14km, 13 min. Pottsville (Pottsville Rd) 25km, 22 min. Kingscliff (McPhail Ave) 24km, 21 min. Factbox Trip to Tweed Getting to Tweed Heads" hospital from:" Tyalgum (Swifts R\d) Approx. 53km and 50 minutes travel time. Murwillumbah (Wollumbin St\) - 31km, 28 min. Chillingham (Zara R\d) 45km, 40 min. Uki (Kyogle Road) 44km, 39 min. Stokers Siding (Tunnel R\d) 42km, 38 min. Pottsville (Pottsville R\d) 32km, 26 min. Kingscliff (McPhail Ave) 13km, 14 min.