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Don't you dare cut our funding

Wednesday, 26th August, 2009

By Stefan Delatovic

Hundreds of people marched yesterday to send a message to the NSW Government that the city wanted its ailing health service back in local hands.

Protesters were there to voice their opposition to a Government plan to change the way hospitals are funded. If it goes ahead unchanged the scheme will rip $11 million - or 37 per cent - out of the local Health Service's budget.

Such a cut is expected to cripple the hospital, and community leaders are calling for its management to be returned to local hands. A large crowd gathered at the Trades Hall yesterday afternoon to prepare for the march. Wielding placards and shouting slogans such as "save our service" they stretched one city block, eight to 10 abreast, and marched to the Town Square. They included people of all ages led by a group carrying a makeshift coffin. The procession was met with applause from onlookers. BIC President Danny O'Connor, who called the march, addressed at the square. "This is possibly the greatest attack on our health service in living memory," he said. "(Today) is to send our message loud and clear to the Government that we have a health service in disarray." Mr O'Connor said the health service had been broken since it was amalgamated in 2004, and that the proposed cuts were proof of that. "We are saying no. There is a better way, and that is to bring back the Far West Area Health Board," Mr O'Connor said to applause from the crowd. "If $11 million is taken out of this area we will be left with a shell of a hospital. "We might be a long way from Sydney but we certainly have a voice. This is about our community. This is about our hospital." John Groenendijk, President of Business Broken Hill, addressed the crowd as a member of the Broken Hill community "with a right to be upset". "Today we must all unite and tell the Government that this is wrong," he said. Mr Groenendijk said that lumping the city in with the rest of the State's system, cutting funding and forcing patients to leave town for treatment was plain foolish. "Our region is indeed unique and it must be treated as such," he said. Peter Black, who as the local MP in 2004 was a vocal opponent of the amalgamation, said NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca was also against it, and was a friend to Broken Hill. While Mr Black supported the return of local control, he said the installation of a board had to be done carefully because in Mildura it had led to the hospital's privatisation and a cut in services. "I say we have a brilliant service manned by excellent doctors and excellent nurses and we want to keep it," he said. "The only way to do that is local control." The NSW opposition has promised to provide a local management board if elected, but Mr Black reminded those present that they had not promised to stop funding cuts. Briana Bartley of the NSW Nurses' Association said the Greater Western Area Health Service's CEO Danny O'Connor had said the new funding model was proving impossible to implement in Broken Hill, as there were no other health services in NSW that it could be accurately benchmarked against. The Nurses' Association anticipates that a 37 per cent funding cut would see more than 30 nursing positions lost at the hospital, and Ms Bartley said the city needed more nurses, not fewer. Fran McKinnon from the Health Advisory Council said the GWAHS and the NSW Government were not to be trusted. The Council had been working since the amalgamation to have the Sinclair report's recommendations implemented to ensure a positive outcome. Ms McKinnon said they had been unsuccessful. While an improvement in frontline services had been promised, Ms McKinnon said proof of that had never materialised and the Council had since been told that no savings had been made and documentation did not exist. "I don't trust them any more. Don't trust them." Ms McKinnon said no business could survive a 37 per cent budget cut. "I believe this is a claim to soften us up so that in 12 months' time or so they'll offer us a cut of $2 million and we'll accept it," she said. "But I say no cuts." As the rally came to a close those gathered unanimously supported a call for the local management board to be reinstated as a matter of urgency, and that there be no drop in funding, staffing or services until it was in place.

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