A "hub and spoke" model of healthcare is set to be rolled out across the region after a 10-year health services plan was endorsed by officials this week - a decision that could mean the demise of a 24-hour emergency department at Bulli.
Under the plan, Wollongong, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven hospitals will be the central "hubs" for the South Coast offering acute healthcare services, with smaller hospitals such as Bulli and Port Kembla the "spokes" in the wheel.
The acceptance, in principle, of the revised plan by the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) board on Monday night would indicate that the hours and services of Bulli's emergency department would be restricted as outlined in the draft plan.
The Save Bulli ED group submitted a detailed report to the ISLHD board before this week's meeting, outlining why a full 24/7 service was vital.
However board chairman Professor Denis King would not comment on Bulli's emergency department when contacted yesterday.
Prof King said the healthcare services plan, which was first released in August, had been revised after feedback from hundreds of community members, clinicians, staff and other stakeholders.
"The board considered the plan and all of the submissions and feedback in detail, and have broadly accepted the revised plan and what it is trying to achieve," he said.
"There still needs to be some clarification and editing and then the plan will be finalised and released by the end of this month.
"I cannot comment on specific sites - there are nine sites and the roles and decisions in relation to these need to be considered in the context of the overall plan.
"I think it is a good plan that gives us the best chance of providing high-quality healthcare across the entire district, which stretches from Helensburgh in the north to south of Ulladulla."
Save Bulli ED Group spokeswoman Alison Fettell said group members were still awaiting a response to their submission.
"We're hopeful, and have faith that the board is listening to the northern Illawarra community's needs and will respond accordingly," she said.
"The group has treated the board with respect and we expect to also be treated with respect and get an answer by the end of the week.
"Our position remains that the 24/7 ED should never go, that it's an essential service that works within a regulated environment that provides triage, treatment and transport.
"A lesser service, a downgraded service, is not an option."
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has the final say on the plan. However Prof King is confident she will support the board's decision.
"Ms Skinner has already indicated that she's comfortable with the direction we're heading," he said.
The ISLHD healthcare plan for 2012-2022 was crafted in response to the challenges confronting the area's health network, including an ageing and growing population that will top 425,000 by 2021.