Just what is the future of Manning Base Hospital?

The Manning Base Hospital still struggles. Despite being used as a political football to make the pollies look good by token gestures to earn brownie points, it needs a positive plan for the future. 

Some History

The Manning Base Hospital was originally part of Mid North Coast Area Health Service which was dissolved in 2006 leaving Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and the Manning – all base hospitals. But we were always the poor cousin, Port and Coffs were built up while we were always fighting to get things happening here as funding was always going north.

So in 2006 when Premier Morris Iemma decided to lump us all in as the North Coast it would have meant us being administered from Lismore.  So a local medical delegation met with the Premier saying we are a special case in the Manning, let us join with Newcastle, it’s much closer.  

But it soon became obvious we were just an addition to an area bigger than Britain and we were being swamped and merged and losing our identity.

Soon Port Mac and Coffs hospitals had enough of the north coast administration and so they merged as the Mid North Coast, but nobody asked us if we wanted to join and it seemed no one in the Manning knew anything about it. So we continued to be administered from Newcastle.

About eight years ago, business bureaucrat Michael DiRienzo took over as CEO of Hunter New England Health, which has now a budget exceeding two billion dollars a year. 

 While there was some acknowledgement that the Manning had to be “looked after”, there was a feeling at Manning Base that they were being dismissed and their position was somewhat precarious so no-one argued or fought back with the new regime. And, it seems, t’was ever thus.

Bad Balogh Report

This paper ran a front page story in June 2017, revealing details of the Zsolt Balogh Report done by the supremo trauma leader in Australia, Dr. Zsolt Balogh, described as a surgeons’ surgeon, based in Newcastle, and Chair of the Australian Orthopedic Trauma Society . He does verification of trauma centres all over Australia and NZ. His report revealed that Manning Base Hospital didn’t reach appropriate standards for majority of criteria examined for its level of trauma service. Rockets went off from the offices of DiRienzo and Jim Wills, the then Director, Clinical Services and Director, Emergency Department, who downplayed the report, were dismissive and so the report was buried.  The Balogh Report was nonetheless circulated, if little commented upon. 

Deafening Silence

Ever since, however, any news, comment, or information requested by this newspaper from New England Health HQ in Newcastle, has been tight lipped, unfriendly and unhelpful, if answered at all. Requests for comments from Manning Base Hospital are forwarded to Newcastle and passed down the line to junior media staff who denied knowing about any Zsolt Balogh Report. Media questions were sent to the Manning Base CEO, Jodie Nieass, who was previously a Sister working in ER… so can be forgiven for having little experience in the cut and thrust of political and administrative warfare, but frustratingly, she doesn’t have the authority to speak. So a bland comment, which had nothing to do with the questions asked, was returned from the ivory tower of Emperor DiRienzo.  

As a result of our article, Doctors and specialists were sent stern letters asking why shouldn’t their contracts be terminated by them breaking the code of conduct by speaking to this paper out of turn and not being supportive of the administration. So Doctors and staff pulled their heads in, fearful of retribution from the Emperor but they remain concerned about the hospital and its future. 

Why Not Manning Base?

After the horse race accident at Taree in 2016 where five horses fell and ambulances took the jockeys straight up to Port Macquarie Hospital, locals began to ask, What’s going on? Why can’t people with injuries be treated in our base hospital? 

If you have a heart attack in the Manning, there’s a wait and costs, inconvenience and often, great risk, while patients are required to be sent mostly to John Hunter Hospital. 

So, over a period of time we’ve slowly been downgraded, marking time,  as the empire in Newcastle surges ahead.  

There is the feeling that our State Member can’t see the bigger picture and now wants to build a public hospital in Forster, which would run into hundreds of millions of dollars. And what do they do with Manning Base? Instead of having one good centralised base hospital with all the services, it’s going to be diffused over two sites. From a political view it might sound good, but from a medical viewpoint it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  

Any queries to the State Member are mostly forwarded to the Minister for Health, who has been singularly unproductive. The pollies write letters, which say nothing… “Your query has been forwarded and noted… etc” 

And as for our former Federal Member, a medical doctor who prefers to play with his mates in Canberra, even though he is no longer required in cabinet, is not much of a loss for us, as Dr Gillespie believed matters like our hospital were State issues, and he would only appear in the electorate for “photo ops.” 

We Need Quality Services. 

Jim Wills has retired and been replaced by Dr Osama Ali, and while Manning Base has been funded to get two more orthopaedic registrars and there’s another orthopaedic surgeon waiting in the wings, one suspects our senior medicos are getting fed up and looking at moving on or retiring, frustrated at trying to raise the bar at the hospital, hopefully leaving a legacy, and getting good Registrars and infrastructures that’s vital. The fine staff are frustrated and no doubt fed up at the struggle with limited resources.

Need A Good Team

Having a group of doctors and staff who can work together and then say to Newcastle; Hey, we’ve got a good team here, now patients don’t have to be rushed up to Port Macquarie or down to Newcastle, we can handle the work here with good physicians and good staff, infrastructure, ICU, a cath lab, backup.

But while Mr DiRienzo controls his empire in Newcastle the feeling is nothing more will surge ahead at Manning Base. The animosity between some Manning specialists who fight Newcastle on behalf of their patients, and are frustrated by DiRienzo, has caused such animosity, that, at the end of the day, it’s the patients who suffer. 

Fix it with a Pen

The CEO at the Mayo Private Hospital, Greg Gibson (who also runs Forster Private) has been trying to get support services for public patients, which would be acceptable to the public system.  But Hunter Health CEO, DiRienzo has refused to agree to sign off on a public/private patient agreement. Yet the interventional cardiologist at Manning Base hospital is prepared to treat public patients at the Mayo private hospital to save the dangerous wait and travel to Newcastle. The stroke of a pen could prevent this. 

There are a lot of question marks to the health system in our area… not just because there are doctors who’ve been suspended or deregistered and the shocking issue of the gynaecologist charged with serious offenses that worked here unchallenged for the last 16 years.

The practice of medicine is all about professionalism and maintaining a standard. And most of our doctors here set themselves very high standards. If you have an environment where a doctor is not challenged enough, not supported enough, like for example, with good Registrars, standards can drop.  Doctors working with a good Registrar means that Registrar knows exactly what that doctor is doing, day in and day out. Good Registrars are a must and first to ring alarm bells, as was finally the case at the Manning Base which had been ten years without an Obstetrics and Gynaecology Registrar. 

What’s The Future?

Many professionals at Manning Base ask, Where’s an up to date clinical services plan? Where’s the asset planning? Where’re plans for buildings and infrastructure?  How can 20 million dollars fall out of the sky when the General Manager of Manning Base Hospital didn’t know about it til the morning it was announced? Even as the lead up to an election, how can there be no planning?  How can they identify what needs to be done . . . and yet start talking about a new hospital down in Forster?

So are we maintaining high enough medical standards? Supporting the medicos and staff? Or are we bound to be another casualty of a poorly funded and politically unsupported local hospital?  

Perhaps a ministerial enquiry can answer that question. 



  • Thank you Di. Excellent.

  • What is the future of Manning Base Hospital.

    Well. Manning Base hospital is a building structure and all buildings have a limited life span.

    Examples are

    Royal North Shore
    Manly Hospital

    They had a major change of circumstances involving rebuilding RNS and totally moving Manly Hospital to a new site.

    The government suggested its a funding issue.

    My brother is Dr Jim Wills who recently retired from Manning Base Hospital.

    Recently there has been a trend towards mental health teams in hospitals.

    I personally feel its inappropriate and the state could spend the money on other things.

    For example

    Diet management
    Driver education
    Repair of government vehicles instead of sale which would lead to local work opportunities.

    It depends if you just want to talk about it or if you want to improve your community.

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