Protests against health cuts

TWO public protests against the loss of 400 health service jobs are now planned for the Tweed this Saturday -- one outside The Tweed Hospital and another at Murwillumbah.

The Murwillumbah Hospital Community Support Committee yesterday threw its weight behind a separate protest against the cuts. Other protests are being planned outside Coffs Harbour, Grafton and Lismore hospitals.

The Murwillumbah protest comes on top of claims -- denied by the health service -- that the hospital will be left without an obstetrician from early January.

That would force pregnant mums with difficulties to be transferred to The Tweed Hospital.

Hospital support committee president Ian Ross said the group feared Murwillumbah District Hospital would be hard hit by the loss of 400 jobs from the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) after the NSW Labor government demanded $200 million in savings over the next four years.

Jobs at risk include nurses, cleaners and management, prompting National Party politicians up and down the coast to plan the series of Saturday protests.

Mr Ross said he had been talking with Lismore MP Thomas George who is planning rallies outside both Lismore and Murwillumbah hospitals.

"We are very concerned for Murwillumbah," said Mr Ross.

"We have also been informed the obstetrician who is to start in December has declined the offer and the existing one has resigned as of the eighth of January.

"That leaves us checkmated by Crawford (NCAHS CEO Chris Crawford). Everything will be transferred to Tweed Heads."

Mr Ross said he understood the American specialist who had declined to work in Murwillumbah was instead likely to work at Tweed Heads. An NCHAS spokesman however said the current obstetrician had not resigned. Attempts to contact the doctor himself yesterday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Mr Ross added that he was extremely disappointed by Federal Labor MP for Richmond, Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot, and Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon who both promised to "fix Murwillumbah hospital" when they visited the town during last year's federal election campaign.

"They promised if it wasn't handled correctly it would be taken over by the Federal Government. The quicker they do that the better for future generations," said Mr Ross.

Mrs Elliot said the federal government was providing an extra billion dollars "this year alone" to improve the health system.

But she revealed she would not attend either the Tweed Heads or Murwillumbah protest meetings "due to a prior commitment".



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