The Parkes maternity unit will reopen, but based on a model that is safe and sustainable for the community.
This reassurance was given this week by Scott McLachlan, Chief Executive of Western NSW when he briefed local media.
“We will reopen the unit, but it might be a midwifery-based model as is being done all over the country and in many other first world countries.”
He said the shortage of medical personnel was impacting the whole region with 50% of towns in NSW reliant on locums.
According to Scott there are several reasons for the shortage. “General practitioners (GPs) no longer work the hours they used to as work-life balance has become important for families especially for female doctors. They are no longer prepared to be on call 24/7, and a big enough group of specialists are therefore necessary to share responsibilities.”
Hospitals are also reliant on doctors in general practice, and two of the three private practices in Parkes no longer recruit doctors to work in hospital. The ideal level to keep the maternity unit open would be to have four of each specialist.
The third reason is that the ease of locum work has become the preferred option for many doctors as opposed to running a private practice.
Sharon McKay, Director of Rural Health Services, gave the assurance that the crisis point in Parkes was not reached because of bad planning, but that locums had become harder and harder to find at a time when they had to find locums for both the obstetric and anaesthetic positions.
Scott said over the past 18 months locums had also started leap frogging prices by going to different services to chase up rates, and fewer of them were prepared to come to the Central West. He said locums were paid upwards of $3,000 per day on top of being flown in and given accommodation.
The whole of NSW is at a crisis point and it has been identified as the single biggest issue facing all health districts. “In three weeks’ time we are pulling in all medical directors and different national bodies to try and find solutions to this.”
He said they had gone down every road to try and recruit doctors to Parkes, but nothing seemed to be working. Scott and Sharon also had a health roundtable meeting with the mayors and general managers of Parkes and Forbes Shires this week, while consumer focus groups have been initiated.
“We’ve had a really good response so far from mothers and fathers to be,” said Sharon.
She said a substantial investment has also been granted to help the midwives in Parkes obtain advance skills so they can do the same manoeuvres and interventions a doctor can do, bar a C-section.
Another alternative is getting telehealth technology, which is proving to inject new life into rural hospitals, for the Parkes maternity with access to the best specialists.
According to Scott support and focus on rural health has never been bigger.” There is certainly not a lack of money. We’ve had 5% growth every year, which you will find nowhere else in the world.”
“The changes in society have had the biggest impact on all of this.”
By Maggi Barnard