Medical services continue to stir community discussions

A proposal for extensions to the Cobar Primary Health Care Centre has prompted a strong social media discussion proving medical services continue to be a major issue for the local community.

Cr Peter Yench has a notice of motion before tomorrow night’s Ordinary Meeting of Council, calling on councillors to commit $300,000 from council’s general funds for an extension to the centre and to approve an immediate start whether or not council is successful in securing grant money.

However in a response to social media discussion on the matter, council’s general manager Peter Vlatko has urged caution on the matter for fear it would jeopardise a current grant application for the project.

“Grant funds cannot be provided for projects that have already commenced and that is why both parties are waiting for the grant and ensure that the project is ‘shovel ready’,” Mr Vlatko said.

In a letter to residents (which was shared on a number of Facebook pages), Cr Yench outlined his reasons for the urgency of the situation however some of his comments have been labelled as misleading.

Cr Yench wrote that many of the town’s medical services had “decreased substantially” over the years and the medical centre was helping to fill the gap.

“We had a 30 bed hospital, providing operations, beds for recovery, childbirth facilities and specialists visiting monthly.

“People are [now] sent to Dubbo for minor ailments and a major reduction in services are being offered at the hospital and a threat of Nurse Practitioners only being available at the hospital were being mentioned.”

He said that Cobar residents should not be offered “a 10 bed first aid station”.

A spokesperson for the Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) said in addition to an emergency service that offers primary critical care, staff at the Cobar Hospital were very capable of managing a number of complex cases. In critical situations, the spokesperson advised that patients are referred to a larger facility which is “usual Health protocol”.

The spokesperson said the Cobar Health Service has top of the range equipment and provides “world class rural health care for the Cobar community”.

In his letter to residents, Cr Yench said the medical centre now provides “approximately 50 medical services” and the proposed $300,000 extension would provide “another 20-30 services, including minor operations”.

Bernie Martin, the Cobar Primary Health Care Centre’s manager and Outback Division of General Practice (ODGP) employee told The Cobar Weekly she is unsure of what Cr Yench meant when he quoted these figures about services available at the centre.

She said in addition to two GPs, they have approximately 12 allied health specialists who visit the centre on a regular basis.

Mrs Martin said she did not think the proposed extension would allow them to provide “another 20-30 services”.

She said there are no operations carried out at the centre (they do not have the services of an anaesthetist) and they have no immediate plans to do so.

She said staff do however carry out some minor procedures under local anaesthetic.

In his social media post, Cr Yench wrote “our current doctors are being run of their feet, the sooner we get the extensions so they can recruit more doctors, the better it will be”.

Mrs Martin said the practice is already set up as a four GP practice but they only have two doctors currently working in the practice.

She said another doctor is set to start next month but they haven’t been unable to recruit a fourth doctor.

“It’s not that we don’t have the space, it’s just hard getting them to come to Cobar,” she said.

Mrs Martin said with the support of council, the ODGP applied for government funding in December 2016 for the $300,000 extension.

She said ODGP are expecting to hear next month if their submission was successful.

She said if building work were to start prior to the receipt of funding, she is concerned that funding could possibly be lost.