How about us Mr Howard? PM bails out Tassie hospital

By NEELIMA CHOAHAN & AAP

THE Murwillumbah community will send an SOS to Prime Minister John Howard to take control of the town's hospital should the NSW state gov- ernment attempt to strip the medical facility of precious resources. Mr Howard yesterday announced shock plans to wrest control of a%regional public hospital from the Tasmanian state government.

The proposed move to the tune of $45 million a year would see the Commonwealth fund the Mersey Hospital, Latrobe, and hand its reigns to a trust made up of local government, business and health-profession%leaders.

Mr Howard said he stepped in to take control of the hospital because local people were deeply unhappy at state government plans to downgrade the facility.

In recent months fears have grown among the people of Murwillumbah that North Coast Area Health Service, the NSW government's directing body for health in this region, has been sharpening its knives to trim services from Murwillumbah District Hospital.

Despite NCAHS denying such moves are afoot, the people of Murwillumbah have mobilised, forming a support committee for the hospital and holding several public meetings to discuss concerns about the%facility's future.

When approached yesterday by the Daily News the Prime Minister's office would not comment on the chances of federal intervention into the Murwillumbah hospital.

But Mr Howard had earlier stated that if the initiative worked in Tasmania it may be extended to other hospitals in Australia.

"If this type of local community-based initiative works at the Mersey hospital it could be a model for keeping viable hospital facilities in other parts of regional Australia," Mr Howard said.

Murwillumbah District Hospital Support Committee member and former hospital director Bob Dow said the group may be forced%to take their concerns to Canberra if the NCAHS did not listen to the community's demands.

"If the Prime Minister can intervene in Tasmania then why not Murwillumbah," Mr Dow said.

Mr Dow spoke to the Daily News following a meeting of the committee with Lismore MP Thomas George at the Murwillumbah Showgrounds yesterday morning. Mr George said if asked he would approach the Prime Minister on the Murwillumbah community's behalf.

"I will support the committee in what they want to do," Mr George said.

NSW acting Health Minister David Campbell said Mr Howard's move was nothing but an election stunt.

NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher is due to meet with the committee in September to discuss their concerns.



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