Emergency Concerns at Bellingen River District Hospital

The Bellingen River Hospital sees around fourteen patients a day.


CONCERNS that the Bellinger River Hospital is closing or downgrading havebeen denied by the Mid North Coast Local Health District (MNCLHD) but one Bellingen GP is not convinced.

Dr Andrew Heslop is a General Practitioner in Bellingen and also a Visiting Medical Officer and current chair of the Medical Staff Council at Bellingen Hospital.

He spoke with News Of The Area in his capacity as a General Practitioner with concerns for the Bellingen community.

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“The MNCLHD CEO Chief Executive Stewart Dowrick has said that any claims the MNCLHD wish to close or downgrade are false.

“But the fact is the MNCLHD has been in discussion for the last five months and central to the discussion is closure of the Emergency Department,” said Mr Heslop.

MNCLHD Chief Executive Stewart Dowrick told News Of The Area the MNCLHD is committed to maintaining and improving services at Bellinger River District Hospital and said any claims it intends to close or downgrade the hospital are completely false.

Both Dr Heslop and Mr Dowrick agree that the MNCLHD have been meeting a group of doctors fortnightly for the past six months and working to find a sustainable solution.

According to Mr Dowrick this includes looking at ways to provide flexibility of contract to encourage more local doctors to work in the hospital, supported by ED staff.

Dr Heslop wants changes to the model put forward by the MNCLHD and suggests a model of care that has more flexibility in the contracts for Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs).

“The contract mandated at the moment means the doctors have to work at the whole hospital and be on call three or four nights.”

“It is outdated and no longer fit-for-purpose,” Dr Heslop said.

“We have put forward that a doctor could just work in the Emergency Department or be on call and have variations of contracts.

“We have had a video discussion with the Department of Health and they are amenable to any contract arrangement which is presented to them,” Dr Heslop said.

Mr Dowrick has also reached out to NSW Health.

“We have also sought advice from NSW Health, the Rural Doctors’ Association and reached out to other local health districts to look at ways to attract more medical staff,” he said.

Bellinger River District Hospital provides specialist palliative care and surgical services to the Coffs Clinical Network.

Its Emergency Department (ED) is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, seeing around 5,000 people per year (approximately 14 per day).


By Sandra MOON

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