Doctors abandon Bulli Hospital's urgent care centre over long weekend

The convenors of the long-running Save Bulli ED campaign are outraged that no doctors were available at Bulli Hospital’s urgent primary care centre on the Sunday of the long weekend.

The community group was unsuccessful in its bid to keep the hospital’s 24/7 emergency department running, and in late 2012 it was downgraded to a centre offering urgent GP-style services between 7am and 10pm.

Convenors Alison Fettell and Caroline Colton said they were shocked to read in the Mercury on Saturday that there would be cuts to these services on a busy holiday weekend.

On late Friday afternoon, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) sent out a media release. It stated that patients who attended the centre on Sunday may be redirected to Wollongong Hospital or their nearest medical centre between 8am and 6pm due to the ‘‘unavailability of a doctor during these hours’’.

‘‘From time to time there are shortages in the availability of visiting medical officers; with the June long weekend especially popular for leave,’’ an ISLHD spokesperson stated.

‘‘Bulli will have its ward doctor on duty as normal to manage the hospital’s inpatients.’’

Ms Colton said thousands of northern suburbs residents, and visitors, relied on the urgent primary care centre. 

‘‘What kind of system is the health service running? This is not a cake shop or some non-essential service that can just shut-up shop for the holidays,’’ she said.

Bulli Hospital in 2012. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Bulli Hospital in 2012. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

‘‘It shows an absolute contempt for the health needs of people in this region. The idea of shutting down a medical service because staff want a break is just incredible.

‘‘And at such a crucial time - when more people are out fishing or taking part in other recreational activities, when more people are on the roads, when people are often drinking too much...’’

Ms Fettell said signs diverting patients to Wollongong Hospital had been all too common when Bulli Hospital’s former ED was operational - but the community had been assured that the urgent care centre would stay open during its allocated times. 

‘‘It’s purely a financial decision,’’ she said. ‘‘I work in the health system - we manage our staff according to the needs of the service we provide, not the needs of the staff members. You might give some staff the time off, but not all of them.’’

Keira MP and shadow minister for the Illawarra Ryan Park said he hoped this would not be a regular occurrence.

‘‘I intend to write to (ISLHD chairman) Professor Denis King about this situation to see what the health service is doing to make sure this doesn’t happen on a frequent basis, as has happened in the past,’’ he said. 

Ms Fettell said many community members were already struggling with the downgrade from a 24/7 ED to a primary care centre. Now she had concerns for the centre’s future.

‘‘We still maintain that the 24/7 ED should be reinstated as it saved the lives of so many people who may not have survived the extra 10 minutes to get to Wollongong Hospital,’’ she said.

‘‘Professor Denis King has promised us that even with Bulli Hospital being turned into an aged care centre of excellence, that the primary care centre would still exist.

‘‘If that doesn’t happen, there’ll be another groundswell of community opposition.’’

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