“You can’t actually set-up a stand-alone emergency department in a place like Forster,” says Hunter New England Health District chief executive officer, Michael DiRienzo.
He acknowledges emergency department access, and not hospital access is “the biggest need” in that region of NSW’s largest health district, and is aware of the petition of Member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead that calls on the NSW government to “build a public hospital in the Forster-Tuncurry area to provide an emergency department, medical imaging, ambulatory care and inpatient units.”
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He has had no “specific discussions with Stephen about Forster” but expects that “once he collects his information he will come and have a chat.”
Mr DiRienzo acknowledges “it’s a growing community, and at the end of the day it’s clearly obvious that at the moment the growth seems to be going into that corridor, as opposed to the town of Taree.”
However, population growth is not the only factor assessed when NSW Health considers its capital infrastructure spending, and Mr DiRienzo says “at this stage our indications don’t show that we need to build a public hospital in Forster.”
“I think people want something in their backyard and they are going to their local member saying we need a new hospital. When the government comes to us and says, ‘Can you investigate, can you look at this?’, we will grab all the data we’ve got and we will provide that information.”
Mr DiRienzo understands the community wish for an emergency department in the Great Lakes area, but says “you can’t actually set-up a stand-alone emergency department in a place like Forster.”
Currently residents can present at Manning Hospital in Taree for assessment and treatment, and NSW Ambulance will transport patients to Manning Hospital, Port Macquarie Base Hospital or John Hunter Hospital for medical care, depending on injuries sustained and treatment protocols.
Mr DiRienzo suggests future development of health services in the area could come from increasing public services and access to Forster Private Hospital, which is operated by Healthe Care, Australia’s third largest corporate private hospital operator. The public-private partnership agreement with the hospital began in 2009 with former hospital operator, Pulse Health.
Currently 20 in-patient beds are available for the admission of public patients who require lower level of care, and they can also be used for rehabilitation if a patient is recovering from an acute admission to Manning Hospital. The district also runs palliative care, renal dialysis, chemotherapy, and general medical inpatient services.
“We’ve got a public-private partnership agreement in place for renal dialysis, so that renal centre is a satellite of the renal centre at Manning Hospital, and our staff run it. So what we do basically in simple language is we rent a space, in co-operation with the private hospital,” Mr DiRienzo said.
General medical inpatient and oncology services are delivered under contract by Healthe Care and networked back to Manning Hospital.
“I think the best immediate opportunity is to work with that private hospital … that’s only my first look at it.”