MILTON Ulladulla Hospital’s maternity section has been downgraded as the hospital battles to retain its services and facilities.
Senior doctor Brett Thomson last week warned the hospital was in danger of losing its ability to provide services the community needed and expected.
“I think we are sitting on the precipice of where our hospital will be in the future,” he told Friday night’s United Hospitals Auxiliary ball.
The hospital was sitting on the edge of whether it remained relevant to the community it served, or became little more than a holding station for stabilising patients before they were moved on elsewhere, Dr Thomson said.
“It’s a particularly difficult environment to work in,” he said.
“We need to make sure we keep this a general practice hospital.”
The Milton Ulladulla Hospital had long looked after people in every stage of life from the cradle to the grave, but “We are at real risk of losing these services if we are not careful, if we do not do the politics right.”
That started with potentially losing obstetrics services and staff, amid continued downgrading in which the hospital was no longer allowed to perform many obstetric services.
Dr Thomson said it meant more and more women from the region would be forced to travel to Nowra to deliver their babies, and also put at risk the number of doctors working in the area and providing obstetric services.
“Some of these doctors came here to practice at a higher level, and with the restrictions being put on us I fear this will lead to a net outflow of staff,” Dr Thomson said.
However having to make do with inadequate resources was nothing new for the hospital, he said.
“We are significantly under-resourced and I think we have a lot of fighting to do just to maintain services at the level where we want them,” he said.
He illustrated the point with the number of patients seen by hospital emergency departments each year.
Milton Hospital saw 15,000 patients each year, compared to 60,000 at Wollongong, which enjoyed 10 to 12 times the number of staff in the emergency department.
Dr Thomson called on people to “get a little bit angry about it, to ask the questions and defend it”.
Because Milton Hospital was “a great hospital”, he said, staffed by remarkable and dedicated professionals, and strongly supported by the community.
“I want to make sure we don’t get any of that wound back.”
Dr Thomson has often spoken out about the hospital’s needs, and in 2004 was threatened with being dismissed because of it.
But Sate Member for South Coast, Shelley Hancock, conceded on Friday night, “He was never going to be sacked.”
She paid tribute to Dr Thomson “for being an absolute pain”, in the never-ending battle between doctors, health bureaucrats and politicians.
“Politics has always been a part of getting something done for the hospital,” Mrs Hancock said.
She urged the large crowd of hospital staff and supporters, “You don’t take any downgrading of Milton Hospital.”