THE expansion of Cessnock Correctional Centre will place extra pressure on the area’s already buckling hospital, a retired nurse says.
Rose King worked at Cessnock Hospital for more than 40 years, and has watched its services be gradually eroded over time, despite the area’s growth.
She is concerned that the Cessnock Correctional Centre expansion, which will grow from about 800 inmates to 1800, will place extra pressure on an already struggling hospital and its staff.
“Unless people start kicking up, I think Cessnock Hospital will close,” she said.
Mrs King said many members of the community already felt uneasy with the number of inmates being treated at the hospital, a figure likely to increase with the number of inmates at the jail.
“Whether you are a prisoner or not, you should get decent medical care, and their privacy needs to be protected, just the same as the public’s,” Mrs King said.
She said the jail’s on-site nurses sent inmates, accompanied by at least two warders, to the hospital to see doctors and get x-rays.
But Cessnock Hospital did not have doctors on site 24 hours a day, and relied on local GPs and visiting medical officers.
“If you have more inmates, you’re going to get more admissions. Accidents happen out there – what they call ‘accidents’, and inmates get sick – just like the normal public, and they have to be treated,” she said. “Most of them have to come through the front door wearing handcuffs. I know they are in jail for a reason, but it must be very degrading for them as well. Patients complained about it all the time.”
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr has received many calls from concerned community members on the issue.
“If we more than double the prisoners at the jail, then common sense would tell us that it will more than double the frequency of which inmates go to the hospital, which means we’re going to have more than double the impact on the community, the visitors and the family and friends, that feel quite unnerved by the attendance of that prisoner,” he said.
Di Peers, general manager of Hunter New England Health’s lower hunter sector, denied the hospital’s services had been downgraded, and said they did not anticipate the jail expansion would have a “significant impact” on hospital services. Less than 2 per cent of emergency department presentations, and less than 1 per cent of overnight stays, were patients from the jail, she said.
A Corrective Services NSW spokesperson said the majority of health services required by inmates in the new facility would be provided by Justice Health on site, and include registered nurses, mental health programs and drug and alcohol interventions.