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NSW rural health crisis downplayed by Hazzard at Griffith forum

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard attended the Griffith health forum via video call. Photo by FLAVIO BRANCALEONE

It was called a ‘rural health forum’ but crisis meeting would have worked, too.

The city came to Griffith on Friday, May 13, to discuss the failing standard of health services in rural NSW.

It came eight days after the NSW parliamentary inquiry into rural health standards was released — along with its 22 findings and 44 recommendations.

The panel included NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard (via video call), NSW Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park, NSW State Member for Murray Helen Dalton and three other senior health figures.

The panel fielded questions submitted by the public — in particular to Mr Hazzard, who was singled out by participants.

The discussion revealed a repeated disconnect between what locals were experiencing on the ground and what Mr Hazzard was aware of.

In one instance, a young mother from Coleambally revealed the town’s only nurses were recently lost due to resignations, leaving her to make day trips to Griffith nearly weekly for children’s vaccinations and childcare check-ups.

Mr Hazzard said he understood those Coleambally nurse staff positions were filled, but the staff had been furloughed (temporarily) due to COVID-19 or being close contacts.

When another member of the public asked Mr Hazzard if he could guarantee bulk billing will be available at Griffith’s new radiotherapy clinic, Mr Hazzard said he understood the Federal Government was supplying the money for bulk billing.

When a woman asked Mr Hazzard why her husband was made to wait 10 weeks for an ultrasound and biopsy to get his cancer diagnosis, Mr Hazzard said “every other state and territory minister is very envious of the NSW health system” and blamed COVID-19 on stressing the system.

NSW Greens health spokesperson Cate Faehrmann sat on the forum and was also involved in the parliamentary inquiry which delivered the damning health report.

“It’s not just COVID,” Ms Faehrmann told the minister, prompting a round of applause from the crowd.

“We heard stories that dated back five years ... Minister the health system is in crisis, please take this seriously.

“I have to say we heard harrowing stories, of people going to emergency departments and there being no doctor there ... stitches not being able to be done in emergency when they could be done 20 years ago ... it’s a continued decline,” Ms Faehrmann said.

“One of the things we did find was a lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to NSW Health (Finding 19).”

NSW Labor’s health spokesman Ryan Park described NSW Health as having a “culture of cover-up”.

The forum was organised by Helen Dalton, who was instrumental in the parliamentary inquiry being established.

“When this inquiry began, I did go and see Greg Donnelly who was the chair of the inquiry and Cate you were the vice-chair, and he (Donnelly) did call me not long ago and he said ‘thank you for initiating the inquiry, we would’ve had no idea. As city politicians, we had no idea what was going on in the bush’ and he said, ‘I’m absolutely heart-broken’.”

The rural health forum can be watched in full on Ms Dalton’s Facebook page.

The parliamentary inquiry report (posted May 5) can be read at: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/reports/pages/reports.aspx