OPINION: Community care the future for the Hunter

HEALTH services in Bulahdelah have a strong future with plans to provide a wider range of services delivered by a broader team of healthcare professionals. 

There is solid evidence to support the new direction and a stronger focus on community-based care in Bulahdelah.

Under this new direction, people will be able to access a range of new services from their homes, the hospital, or through video-based telehealth technology.

It means more focus on preventative care; fewer unnecessary hospitalisations; less time away from families; and less time off work. 

And it means better management of chronic disease and other illness.

This focus on preventative, community-based care is the future of healthcare everywhere – including Bulahdelah.

GPs will continue to see Bulahdelah residents from the hospital and people with less serious injuries will continue to receive care from highly trained nurses. Those with more serious conditions will be assessed and if needed transferred to larger acute facilities to receive the specialised care they need, as has always been the case.

While Hunter New England Health works with staff and stakeholders to develop the new direction, I want to assure people that Bulahdelah Hospital continues to care for people in the region. 

Two part-time GPs work from the hospital three days a week. From February 4, that will increase to four days a week.

 A team of highly trained nurses is also on-site 14 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to care for local residents. 

And we continue to work with Hunter Medicare Local and the Rural Doctors Network to advertise for an additional GP to service the Bulahdelah community. 

At this stage, there have been only a handful of inquiries.

 Each was carefully assessed but advice from the Hunter Medicare Local and clinical staff indicates most don’t meet requirements for medical registration to practise as a GP in Australia.

 The more suitably qualified don’t want to provide the 24/7 coverage necessary to operate a small emergency department and overnight in-patient admissions. 

In reality, the Bulahdelah emergency department had been under-utilised for several years before the former full-time GP went on sick leave in September 2011.

 On average, the ED saw about four patients a day, and most had non-severe conditions that could have been more appropriately managed by a GP, and will be under the new model.

The 12-bed hospital was often only half full, averaging five in-patients a day; sometimes, even  fewer. Many of these admissions were avoidable and could have been better managed by community-based services or outpatient clinics, which the new model will deliver.

We have secured $500,000 in capital works funding for Bulahdelah Hospital and we can either choose to use it to help strengthen services, or we can hand it back in and it will go to another community.

I want to see it put to good use in Bulahdelah – to deliver the types of services the community needs and ensure those services are sustainable for the longer-term.

Michael DiRienzo is the chief executive of Hunter New England Health.

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