Fight to end doctor drama

The absence of an on-call doctor at Tumut Hospital – in some instances for days at a time – has prompted a local community group to start a petition calling for the state government to employ two full-time doctors at the hospital.

The Times understands the hospital was again without an on-call doctor for periods from Sunday through to Wednesday this week.

It’s led to local paramedic John Larter describing ambulances as “shuttle buses” transporting patients in non-emergency situations to Wagga Hospital, taking paramedics out of action locally for hours at a time.

On Wednesday night, a Tumut ambulance transported a patient to Wagga, before being tasked to a car accident in the city, meaning there was no paramedics rostered on in Tumut between 6pm and 2am the following morning.

Currently, doctors are employed by local GP practices, and then choose whether to register for service as an on-call doctor at the hospital. There’s about nine GPs presently in Tumut.

The Tumut Community Association says the system isn’t working and wants local MP Dr Joe McGirr to push for the government to employ two full-time doctors at the hospital.

The association president Col Locke said the doctors should be trained in emergencies and anesthetics.

Mr Locke said the hospital is often left without a doctor to deal with any emergency and he pointed out the hospital is responsible for an area covering over 15,000 square kilometres – the size of Northern Ireland.

“Our region is unique in its variety of sources for potentially serious large emergencies from the mills, snow fields and tourist buses, logging, bush fires and more,” Mr Locke said.

“While quick evacuation to a larger hospital is available via helicopter, this provides for transport of one to two patients at any one time, potentially leaving other critical patients without the skillful care of appropriately trained doctors.”

The Tumut Community Association met this week where it resolved to start a petition in the town calling for two doctors to be employed at the hospital.

“Members at the meeting were appalled at the lack of on-call or emergency doctors at Tumut Hospital and the need for the majority of all patients to be transferred by ambulance to Wagga or instructed by hospital staff to drive themselves to hospital in Wagga for treatment they should be able to receive at Tumut Hospital,” Mr Locke said.

“The recent NSW Government budget allocated $3.5 million to Tumut Hospital. Why? It will do nothing to reduce the dire need for emergency doctors or improve critical health outcomes for local patients.”

Mr Locke said other, smaller hospitals, had those doctors on staff.

The health service has previously noted patients who present to the Tumut Emergency Department (ED) when an on-call doctor is not present are assessed and triaged by trained emergency Registered Nurses and their care needs determined.

As is standard practice, patients requiring more acute care are transferred to the nearest appropriate hospital after being triaged.

Tumut Hospital is also supported by the MLHD Critical Care Advisory Service which links it to specialist advice from doctors at the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital (WWBH) ED via telehealth cameras and telephone.

Patients can then be assessed via telehealth by a doctor in the WWBH ED.

The hospital has been without an obstetrician since last year, and has been unable to attract one, meaning all births have been redirected to Wagga.