'Secret agenda' for hospitals

A SECRET policy to run down small hospitals like Murwillumbah while expanding four large hospitals from Coffs Harbour to Tweed is being kept hidden from the public, says former Murwillumbah District Hospital chief Des Ireland. Mr Ireland told a Murwillumbah and District Business Chamber breakfast meeting yesterday he believed an initiative was being pushed by North Coast Area Health Service chief executive officer Chris Crawford and Tweed Hospital general manager Trish Hogan to "deliberately downgrade some services" at Murwillumbah. He added, "It's not an official policy but a hidden policy to have four major hospitals along the coast, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Lismore and Tweed. "All the others can wither on the vine." Mr Ireland was chief executive of Murwillumbah District Hospital from 1978 to 1994 and spent 28 years working in the health system. He is a member of the Murwillumbah District Hospital Support Committee formed late last year to fight cutbacks. Mr Ireland backed up his claims with examples of management allowing a reduction of services. He said management failed to stand up to medical specialists, allowing services to be cut at Murwillumbah while those at the Tweed Hospital and particularly John Flynn Private Hospital expanded. "Over the last ten years some fairly weak management allowed many practitioners to gradually move practices out of Murwillumbah," he said. "They moved their services from Murwillumbah to John Flynn. "Unfortunately they still wanted to hang onto the appointment here which prevents others coming in. "That's one of the major problems in maintaining services in Murwillumbah. It's a token service by some of the practitioners," he said. Mr Ireland said slammed the need for the Tweed Hospital to regularly be placed on bypass sending ambulance north of the state border and cancelling surgery. "At Tweed they are cancelling surgery regularly. It's just poor management," he said. "The two hospitals should work together. They fail to use facilities at Murwillumbah." Mr Ireland said until the early 1970's Murwillumbah was the main hospital in the area and when The Tweed Hospital opened in 1972 it was a subsidiary of Murwillumbah Hospital. A spokesperson for the North Coast Area Health Service said it had no secret plan to downgrade some hospitals and hopes to ultimately upgrade all hospitals with new infrastructure.



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