In 2003 concerned citizens formed a committee to support the retention of medical and health services at the Mersey Community Hospital (MCH), the Mersey Community Hospital Support Group. The group championed the cause through the standard statement of: -
“Return services to the Mersey, then let’s sit down and discuss what would be best for the region for the next 10, 20 or 50 years and if that is building a new hospital on a greenfield site in Ulverstone, then let’s start planning.”
However, from the outset, our committee realised that the real issue at hand was not the actual bricks and mortar of the MCH, (though focused on by the media and government), but was the issue of access to services for the health and well-being of the patients and people of the Mersey catchment area.
The issue was indeed bigger than the MCH, in fact, it was state wide. Members of our committee even attended the community meeting at Ouse and walked from Devonport to Rosebery (in the snow) in support of their hospitals.
Respective Tasmanian Governments have always been frightened about a health budget blowout, so they set about reducing expenditure and cutting costs, whether through staff cutbacks, closure of rural hospitals or reduction of rural services and so called rearrangement of services or efficiencies.
Whether we agree with those measures or not, the issue was and is that, the reductions mean that those living rurally would now have to access the services they need at a different facility, further away. For example the MCH is now on bypass with critical/acute patients being transferred to the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) or North West Regional Hospital (NWRH).
Whilst this may make sense, the LGH and NWRH were only staffed and resourced to accommodate for their own catchment area and no additional funds have been provided to cater for the influx of patients now being transferred from the Mersey.
This influx has regularly created bed blockage with no beds available, causing ambulance ramping, ambulances arriving with patients with no beds to transfer them to, so must remain with their patient.
This then flows back to the community which ambulances cover, placing the community at further risk, with their ambulance/s being committed and most likely out of area.
This example of the MCH with our patients now clogging up the system, most certainly also affects those living in Smithton, Scottsdale, St. Helens, Roseberry, Forrest, Bridport, Georgetown, Stanley, Marrawah, Waratah, Evandale, St Marys, Lilydale and so on, as they too, will be caught up in the bed blockage and ambulance ramping, placing them at further risk. If they are then transferred to Hobart so then is the problem.
Everyone has to travel further as the merry-go-round goes around – at more cost.
If the government of the day was to increase resources at the NWRH or LGH to cater for the influx of patients from the MCH or the North West (in regards to LGH), then why not keep and support the resources at the MCH in the first place?
Additionally, State Governments whilst restricting expenditure and cutting costs to keep the budget in place, they are not investing in preventative programs, or are using the savings gained to introduce short term preventative programs. This only self-perpetuates the problems they are trying to solve and deal with.
For decades governments have been trying to close the MCH or at least downgrade it to a clinic. Our committee does not believe this would be of real benefit to the health system or Merseysiders. Continued investment into the health system, alongside additional funding for preventative programs, is the only sustainable answer to make the Mersey redundant – create a healthy community before reducing any services – invest in people.
This is not achievable in election cycles and therein lays the real problem.
Yes, our fight is for the retention and investment of services at the Mersey Community Hospital, because it does affect the whole of Tasmania.