‘Houston, we have a problem’: Rural NSW health staffing struggles aired

A NSW parliamentary inquiry heard of difficulties in recruiting medical experts for regional areas.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry heard of difficulties in recruiting medical experts for regional areas. Photo: AAP

Chronic underfunding of health services and an inability to hire and retain medical experts are among the main concerns of rural and regional communities.

That’s the repeated message conveyed to a NSW parliamentary inquiry, which held at hearing at Taree on the state’s mid-north coast on Wednesday.

Acute care physician Seshasayee Naramsimhan explained to the upper house committee his “extraordinarily large workload” as the only cardiologist living and working in the region, despite the area’s poor cardiovascular health.

“I constantly work 80 hours a week at the bare minimum,” Dr Naramsimhan said.

“I’m lucky that I only sleep four hours a day … it doesn’t affect my ability to give care, but it incredibly frustrates me that I can’t provide the contemporary, current and expected care.

“I have been asking for five years for an additional cardiologist.”

There is a “disconnect between decision-makers and local stakeholders providing services,” he added.

The scenario has resulted in inadequate funding, failure to provide modern facilities and infrastructure, and challenges in attracting or maintaining staff.

“Nobody wants to come here,” Dr Naramsimhan said. “We are haemorrhaging qualified and experienced allied health professionals.”

Another witness, Simon Holliday, said recruitment agencies were sometimes making $28,000 to secure doctors in regional areas.

“Houston, we have a problem and the problem I’d like to talk to you about is workforce,” Dr Holliday said.

“A lot of the doctors here are burnt out.”

Manning Great Lakes Community Health Action Group president Eddie Wood said that as he spoke, nurses at Manning Base Hospital were protesting on their lunch break because they did not want to disrupt patient care.

“In emergency we are short of 7.1 full-time staff,” he said.

“We have a situation where we have cleaners in the emergency department … they have also been asked on the wards to actually sit and monitor the dementia patients because we no longer have a 16-bed dementia ward.”

Mr Wood interrupted the closing of the hearing with a statement, which earned applause.

“We have gone through floods, fires, droughts and COVID and now we are in a situation where our health service is in crisis.”

Earlier on Wednesday, a hearing at Gunnedah in the state’s north-east was told there were three operating theatres in Tamworth Hospital that were being used for storage instead of surgery.

It took some Gunnedah locals a two-and-a-half hour round trip to get a script due to a shortage of GPs in the area.

Hearings continue in Lismore on Thursday.


Topics: Health, NSW
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