Justine Elliot and MP Walt Secord inspect the telehealth facility at Mullumbimby Hospital.
Justine Elliot and MP Walt Secord inspect the telehealth facility at Mullumbimby Hospital.

Opposition to telehealth fires up

THE State Opposition has accused Ballina MP Don Page of failing to fight for the retention of overnight emergency doctors at Mullumbimby Hospital, claiming there is a cloak of secrecy surrounding the telehealth proposal at the facility.

Federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot and State Labor MP responsible for Tweed issues Walt Secord, examined the video-link equipment at the hospital this week at the invitation of a concerned doctor.

After seeing the equipment that it is proposed will be used to consult with doctors at Tweed Heads between 11pm and 7am, the pair's support for the community campaign to keep the overnight emergency department doctor has toughened.

"There is a cloak of secrecy around the decisions made by Don Page and the O'Farrell gov- ernment," Ms Elliot said.

"The O'Farrell government is cutting country health services. That is why they are refusing to allow the media to see the video link and associated equipment.

"Don Page as the local state member and as Minister for the North Coast has failed to stop these harsh cuts to local health services."

Mr Page said a "political slanging match" was not helpful and if Ms Elliot wanted to be constructive she could make federal money available for the new central Byron Bay hospital that was planned for Ewingsdale.

Mr Page said he had not made up his mind on the issue and would be attending the third public protest meeting against the telehealth proposal at Mullumbimby High School auditorium tonight to hear from the community and local health district CEO Chris Crawford.

Mr Crawford released new figures yesterday that showed just 550 patients attended the hospital's emergency department late at night in 2011/12, an average of 1.5 patients a night.

He has previously used the "less-up-to-date data" of 2.1 patients a night as a justification for investigating the option of telehealth. But he again stressed that no decision has been made.

Wauchope District Hospital is the only facility in NSW so far which uses telehealth without a doctor on site. It was introduced there in May last year.