Cancer patients in the Gunnedah area face an uncertain future after the withdrawal of oncology services from the Gunnedah Hospital redevelopment plans.
It follows a meeting between Gunnedah Shire Council and NSW Health which provided a “revised scope” on the new development due to escalating building costs.
Last year the then-NSW Minister for Regional Health Bronnie Taylor described the now defunct chemotherapy service as a “game changer” for patients in Gunnedah who would no longer have to travel outside the region for treatment.
Colleen Fuller, who chairs cancer support group Pink-Up Gunnedah, was “very disappointed” to lose the service before it had even started, especially after much advocacy in the consultation phase.
She said the travel is already having an impact on Gunnedah patients accessing cancer treatment services.
“I’ve heard people who were travelling to Tamworth are not going now because it’s knocking them around too much,” Colleen said.
She was also concerned about the fate of other health infrastructure in the region.
“How many other projects will not go ahead now?” Colleen questioned.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson, whose government locked in funding for the $53 million redevelopment of Gunnedah Hospital, expected the upgrade of Moree and Glen Innes hospitals would also be impacted in statewide cutback of regional infrastructure.
“[The Labor government] is looking to cut across the board and funnel that money into Sydney and that’s not right,” Mr Anderson told the Gunnedah Times.
“[Gunnedah Hospital] is a project that the community has had a lot of input into, there has been much consultation to get it right and to find the new government is not to going to fund it, is bitterly disappointing.”
As far as he was aware, Mr Anderson said rising construction costs and the impact on the hospital redevelopment were “never a concern” to his Coalition government.
“We had started early works, appointed a construction company and were looking forward to getting this project going,” he said.
“It was full steam ahead from where we were situated.”
Mr Anderson called on the NSW Labor government to complete the Gunnedah Hospital redevelopment in its entirety with the original design.
“[The government] needs to respect our region,” he said.
“We were promised this hospital to be fully funded under the current masterplan and I’ve made that clear to the minister.”
The MP was scheduled to have more briefings with the minister soon and will advocate for all promised services and infrastructure be delivered.
Other areas scrubbed out in the new hospital design include renal dialysis, new theatre, medical imaging, back of house, plant room, community health facilities, dental services and new front of house.
Cancer Council community programs coordinator Shaen Fraser assists oncology patients with travel and access to treatment services in the region.
The support service regularly transports patients from Gunnedah.
Shaen said the omission of a chemotherapy service in the new Gunnedah Hospital design was a blow for local patients.
“It is certainly beneficial to have treatment closer to home,” she said.
“To have that taken away is disappointing.”
She said direct access to cancer treatment in Gunnedah would have allowed the free service to redirect its already limited transport options to other areas in the region which are also in need.
Shaen had also heard about instances of patients in outlying centres forgoing treatment due to their fragile health but urged those to reach out to the Cancer Council about other options that may be available during treatment, such as overnight accommodation.
“If people are too unwell (to travel), it’s important they talk to support agencies,” she said.To order photos from this page click here