Anger is growing in the Batemans Bay community towards local MPs and the Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) as the town's emergency department looks set to close in the wake of the proposed Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.
Community action group "DON'T close Batemans Bay Emergency Department" hosted a packed public forum at the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on Monday, November 27, with at least 350 concerned retirees, nurses and business owners attending.
Group organiser Peter Ryan drew exasperated sighs from the crowd when he said Bega MP Dr Michael Holland had told him the Batemans Bay emergency department and existing hospital facilities will definitely close.
Dr Holland and Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips both declined invitations to the forum. Instead, Mr Ryan is attending meetings with SNSWLHD chief executive Margaret Bennett and Dr Holland next week.
Coastal network general manager of SNSWLHD Brad Scotcher attended the forum but did not answer any questions on the hospital's future.
Most attendees lived north of the Batemans Bay bridge and at least half of them were unaware that the ED would close as a result of the Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.
"I didn't [know it was closing either], and a lot of people I talked to didn't know that was going to happen," Mr Ryan said on stage.
"We knew the new hospital was coming but we still expected the emergency department here."
Mr Ryan discussed how long it might take for those living in Long Beach, Maloneys Beach and South Durras to reach the proposed Eurobodalla Regional Hospital in Moruya.
"From the CBD in Batemans Bay to the new hospital site, it's 31.2 kilometres. It took me 28 minutes to drive there.
"If you're out Long Beach, Maloneys, Durras, Nelligen, I reckon you're about 90 minutes [away] - so you work out whether you're going to live."
Mr Ryan drew on 2021 Census data and ED admission figures from the government's Bureau of Health Information site to show ED presentations are higher and continue to increase in comparison to presentations at the Moruya Hospital.
"Batemans Bay hospital services have been depleting over the years - we cop that, we understand that and that'll happen more when we get better services in this new hospital.
"It still does not take away from the fact that ED is still needed, supported and used a lot [in Batemans Bay].
Mr Ryan said the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic (UCC) which would replace the Batemans Bay ED is a "smokescreen" and would only treat minor injury and illness.
In early November, NSW Health announced the hospital site on Pacific Street will be redeveloped into a $20 million "Community Health Service" centre providing a range of non-urgent allied health, Aboriginal health, women's health and community mental health services alongside the UCC.
'Another general practice'
Batemans Bay GP Dr Andrew Gibson told attendees that the UCC will not provide care for life-threatening, severe medical emergencies.
"Chest pain, severe shortness of breath, severe trauma...the UCC will really be another general practice providing much the same care as the current Batemans Bay general practitioners do.
"Make no mistake...it is no substitute for an emergency service."
Dr Gibson worked in Jindabyne in the Snowy Monaro for 10 years - a town without an emergency service, only GPs and a Community Health Service known as "HealthOne", similar to what will be developed at the Batemans Bay hospital site.
"Managing life threatening illnesses was largely what was called 'scoop and run,'" he said.
"That is, get the patient into an ambulance and go as quickly as possible to an emergency facility. A version of the scoop and run principle is how emergencies will be managed in Batemans Bay if we don't have an emergency facility."
Attendees raised comments and ideas on how the community could continue to create awareness and fight to save the ED by producing bumper stickers, holding rallies and securing a lobbyist.
"It is difficult to accept the situation that the new hospital will be distant from the largest and most rapidly growing population in the Eurobodalla, across a bridge that can bank traffic up to the north Moruya industrial area in holiday times."