With announcement of the cutback of services in the cath lab at the Mayo Private Hospital in Taree, there is now nowhere in the Taree area where urgent public and private heart patients can be treated.

Of course it’s all in the interpretation. The Mayo states that diagnostic coronary angiograms will continue, but stent procedures will be put on hold for 12 months. This is an incomplete service. However the devil is in the detail. If you’re a public patient, forget it.  Private patients can have a coronary angiogram, which is the diagnostic test. However the stent procedure must be carried out at a Healthe- Care Hospital – i.e. Newcastle, as it’s the nearest. 

Healthe-Care is Australia’s third-largest private hospital operator, run by China’s Luye Medical. 

The suspending of stent services for twelve months is not due to poor outcomes, but, we suspect, more financial reasons. As the public-private partnership did not come to fruition, it limits the number of patients being treated. Given the amount of negative medical press in our region in recent times, the issue of clinical governance (seeing we have only one cardiologist in our area – and it took us 25 years to get him-Dr Seshasayee (Sesh) Narasimhan) is added to the mix of reasons for phasing out the much needed and life-saving service.  Finally, the fear of possible litigation is always present for Healthe-Care, given the recent kerfuffle with Dr Emil Gayed.  It is next to impossible to recruit another cardiologist without robust infrastructure, one of which is a functioning cath lab. 

The Heart of Inequality Study conducted by the Australian Catholic University in Canberra two years ago states that the Federal state of Lyne has the worst cardiovascular outcomes in regional Australia. Nothing has changed. 

However, despite persistent lobbying from outside parties, doctors, and the Manning Base Hospital lobby group run by Alan Tickle, Mr DiRienzo has refused to approve a cath lab at Manning Base Hospital, nor agreed to sign off on the Public/Private Partnership at the Mayo.  Pleas to the Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, have been turned down.

The cath lab staff are devastated as they will be let go, and medical practitioners through the region are in shock as there was no warning this was coming. 


It is unacceptable that a region with a population over 90,000 people, the majority an ageing demographic, has no emergency cardiac care close to hand.  Patients are to be treated at John Hunter Hospital, and, despite the promise of being treated within the 48 hour time frame, this rarely occurs. The inconvenience, the dangerous time frame, the whole preposterous procedure, let alone the several million dollars it costs taxpayers in our region, has resulted in angry letters from patients whose family had to find accommodation near John Hunter, or drive to and from Newcastle, and patients who’ve staggered out of John Hunter Hospital and had to make their own way back to Taree, claiming it’s all not good enough and why can’t we be treated at our local hospital?  

Huge Area

Our council covers an area of close to ten thousand kilometres with a large indigenous population, with many suffering cardiac disease. Sending such patients away to Newcastle far from their community and families’ support adds unnecessary distress and cultural angst to these patients.   

Manning Base has no Trauma unit either, so patients are sent to Port Macquarie. Manning Base is being downgraded and heading to its death throes with a thousand cuts.

Mr DiRienzo might publicly say it’s not his doing, but he is on the record stating his plans are to “grow” and develop John Hunter Hospital, which is the recipient of much government financial largesse. And he might well claim that it’s all the politicians’ doing, but he has been heard touting his influence with “Gladys” and Minister Hazzard. 

The workload on hospital staff, including an overload of administrative paperwork, is taking its toll, too. 

Dr David Gillespie, our Federal member in the former Turnbull government, who served as Assistant Minister in the Health, Rural Health, and Children and Families portfolios, refused to help our local hospital, claiming “it is a State matter.”  What good is that when our State Member, Stephen Bromhead, is flapping around the countryside touting the idea of building a swish new hospital in Forster/Tuncurry? Which, we are assured by those who would know, will never happen. 

Given this news about the Mayo, Mr Bromhead released a statement – “Patient safety must always be at the forefront of decisions made in the Health system whether public or private. I will continue to advocate for expanded services at Manning Hospital as part of the Stage 2 Redevelopment.”

Well and good but one does have to look at the finer details. 

The stenting service provided by Dr Narasimhan at Mayo Private Hospital has had excellent outcomes according to the Carroll and Bailey Reports. 

The Carroll Report (organised by Healthe-Care) looked at the viability of the cath lab services while the Bailey Report (organised by Hunter New England Health) looked at the suitability of the public-private partnership between the Manning Base and Mayo Private Hospitals. Both reports did not find any medical reasons (ie. poor patient outcomes) to suspend stenting services. 

A Silver Lining?

Now before we all pack our bags and leave, there could be a silver lining to this disaster.

There have been studies and reports, meetings, memos, accusations and manipulations going on for the last few years about the downgrading of Manning Base and the fight to get a cath lab, amongst other hospital issues.  Yet the good staff, the excellent doctors and specialists, the team who work to save lives and keep us healthy, have been put under pressure by unnecessary cutbacks. 

We wrote last month about the need for good Registrars, a new clinical plan, and the fact $20 million unexpectedly dropped out of the sky during the Premier’s last visit prompting a great hospital debate over who gets the bucks. 

Now, first to the finish line, is unquestionably that the money should go to a new cath lab at the hospital. AND there is a convenient space all ready to go.

The majority of the medicos and staff agree that the current radiology space, which has moved into the new quarters, is ideal for a cardiac catheterisation laboratory.

The area is lead-lined, weigh tested and next to the Emergency Department, first port of call for heart attack patients so has all the required back-up, 24/7.

Time to Mobilise

It’s time to mobilise and get behind the Manning Base Hospital. It truly is a matter of life and death. 

I met with influential radio host, Alan Jones, last week and talked to him about our hospital dilemma. 

Alan fired off a letter to Minister Brad Hazzard. I have now asked Alan to contact the Premier and Mr DiRienzo, the CEO of John Hunter Hospital.  Can’t hurt, can it?

Meanwhile, stay healthy! And remember, elections are looming.


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