Merimbula GP Obstetrician Dr Frank Simonson has been like a ‘triage team leader’ as casualties from the local battle to save Pambula Hospital have lined the corridors since maternity services were removed from the hospital in September 2008.
He has stood witness to the removal of plastic surgery, gynaecology surgery, general surgical lists, the on-call operating theatre for emergency surgery, paediatric admissions, maternity admissions, and patients requiring monitoring of their health status from Pambula.
A once vibrant and viable 28-bed country hospital reduced to a shadow of its former self, where not even a blanket could be found for an 80-year old patient last week who was cold.
Now there is hope that the tide has turned.
Following Thursday’s historic meeting with NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Minister for Ageing and Disability Services and Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Dr Simonson is more optimistic about what Pambula Hospital’s future could look like.
“I like the idea that the minister is going to make the appointment of the advisory committee. I don’t like the idea that its going to be part of the existing bureaucracy because I think things need to change to improve the health outcomes of patients,” Dr Simonson said following the historic meeting with Jillian Skinner and Andrew Constance on Thursday.
“A good example of that is the issue of having to get blankets from Wollongong. Pambula Hospital ran out of blankets last week and I was on call. And I had an 80-year-old man who was cold, so they had to take the blanket from somebody else’s bed. For reasons that I don’t understand (the blankets) have to come from Wollongong.
“While you’ve got a health service that’s such a huge bureaucracy, then that’s not in the best interest of patients.”
The model of care that Dr Simonson wants to see put in place at Pambula is that proposed by Save Our Hospital’s Wolfgang Kaspar, Emeritus Professor of the University of NSW and also a Save Our Hospital Inc (SOHI) member. The ‘model’ is in place and functioning just over the border in Victoria at Orbost hospital, or Orbost Regional Health. Victorian Premier Ted Ballieu named it the Rural Health Service of the Year for 2011.
Dr Simonson visited the Orbost Regional service recently.
“I nearly cried when I came out. It’s everything a community-owned and supported health service should and can be,” he said.
“The staff (at Orbost) were all happy, I saw happy patients, facilities that I haven’t seen in NSW hospitals. It’s a small hospital, but they raised the money in that community to build a rehabilitation centre, which brought physio and other allied health services.
“They have afternoon teas. There was such a nice feeling. I can’t describe it - you’ve got to see it to believe it. That’s how it used to be here.
“Their approach to a ‘paperless’ site was to lease an existing clinical software package called Medical Director and put it in the hospital. It cost them roughly $2000 to $3000. In NSW they’ve got this ‘monster’, which cost millions, and now they’re withdrawing it - it doesn’t work.
“Community hospitals need to be owned and run by the community.”