The flying visit to Taree of the Parliamentary Inquiry Into Health Outcomes and Access to Health and Hospital Services in Rural, Regional and Remote NSW – ie the deterioration and downgrading of Manning Base Hospital (with too frequently disastrous results), told most of us what we already knew – our hospital is a disaster.

Over 700 lengthy and detailed submissions from the public and professionals were submitted. 

Among those who were given the opportunity to speak for several minutes before the Committee were several local doctors speaking as private citizens, other community representatives aligned with community health groups, and the President of the Manning Great Lakes Community Health Action Group.

In their brief statements all made an impassioned impact. Each was allotted two or three minutes. But reading their lengthy and detailed submissions,(available online) which would have taken hours of valuable time to assemble, is enlightening if depressing.

Many horrific, shocking and tragic events have been made public. Some instances have not been made public, despite sometimes years of attempting to bring these cases to the notice of authorities. These sad and catastrophic events are more shocking for being ignored or allegedly covered up. The hierarchy’s modus operandi seems to be “move on, move on. Nothing to see here.”

Liz Hayes

Sitting quietly in the Hearing audience was TV’s 60 Minutes presenter, Liz Hayes who grew up in the Taree area and whose beloved father died while in the care of our local hospitals (Manning Base and The Mayo). It was revealed that during the entire time he was in The Mayo, he failed to receive his vital prescribed anti-stroke medication. His unexpected death, like others, is, for her, difficult to understand.

So Where to Start?
What’s Needed?

Essentially everything. It’s more than a make-over. The years since The Manning Base Hospital was the main hospital in the area has seen it downgraded and marginalised since becoming an adjunct to Hunter New England Health.

One priority is to build and fit out a Cardiac Catheterisation Lab at Manning Base Hospital, supported by an adequate number of cardiologists. Additional and updated operating theatres are needed. As are beds. There’s not enough for our growing and ageing population. Patients are being turned away and elective surgeries cancelled due to lack of beds and adequate operating theatres. 

Nor can extra surgeons be recruited as there aren’t the operating theatres to offer them. And we don’t have a cath lab which should be a pretty basic requirement in an area with the worst cardiac outcomes in regional NSW. 

Specially trained nursing staff, cardiologists and equipment plus ongoing funding are needed.


Funding has been a political football and crass vote bait. 

Amounts of $100 million have been dangled with no details or serious agenda. More flirting for votes included a potential hospital at Forster. ‘Never happen,’ snapped a senior hospital bureaucrat. 

Not surprisingly no local political member was to be seen when the Enquiry came to town trailing major media.

Eddie Wood spoke on behalf of the Manning Great Lakes Community Action Group who submitted a comprehensive and detailed submission which not only pointed out problems ( of which there are many) but sensibly suggested solutions. 

Like most of the 700 plus submissions, a huge amount of thought, details, ideas and shocking facts were detailed in lengthy, no doubt time consuming, detailed submissions. 

For those sitting quietly in the room, the passionate statement from Dr Nigel Roberts brought home the anguish our medico’s feel when they see not just errors and mismanagement, but actions and gross negligence that causes suffering and death.

Emergency Ward

Alan Tickle, founder of the Hospital Action Group who remains a board member made a submission and spoke before the enquiry. He was asked to elaborate on what he meant by over-servicing in the Emergency Ward which has been the centre of some contentious events.
Mr Tickle said in response that a senior, now retired doctor in Emergency, pointed out  that experienced doctors would spend time talking to patients presenting to emergency, took time to take their history and determine if there was a repeat of past issues.  This could often be the product of low socio -economic situation where a patient simply could not afford or go to a GP. Yet the treatment needed for them was frequently obvious and simple.
Mr Tickle commented that the young doctors now order a battery of tests that are costly, add to the delay in the waiting room, then on receiving the test results work on a diagnosis that might have been quite obvious had there been more time spent in taking and considering the patients history, looking for the obvious, before considering ordering  expensive and sometimes unnecessary tests.   

Over several years this paper has received countless letters and emails about the poor events and tragic outcomes at Manning Base Hospital. Most preferred to remain publicly anonymous for fear of retribution from the hospital hierarchy. We know of dedicated staff who have become so distressed at what they see and have to cope with they have resigned and even moved from the area seeking jobs elsewhere. 

Tragic Case

One woman claims her husband who was mentally fit and alert but had periodic overnight visits to Manning Base due to a chronic condition, on arrival one night was alleged to have been sent by the hospital to an Aged Care Home as “he was taking up a bed”  and she says without her knowledge or agreement. Next morning, when she turned up to bring him home  she found he’d been taken to the aged care home and alleges he was considered “ a nuisance” by Manning Base for turning up every few months for his chronic breathing condition. All his paperwork had “gone to archives.” 

For the next few days she says she battled red tape to extricate him and bring him home as they had a Level 4 home package. He kept phoning his wife saying his medication was being mixed up or forgotten. He told his wife his phone was taken from him. By weeks end when his wife had the red tape sorted to bring him home, he had been taken back to the hospital. She claims she received a call at 2am to say come in. Tragically her husband died before she got there.

Last word to Liz Hayes –

I was heartened to see the number of people from the Manning come to the parliamentary public hearing in Taree.

But what many of them had to say was dreadful to hear.

 Health services have significantly deteriorated and shockingly, lessons from past horrors don’t appear to have been learnt.

And this is from health professionals.

 If doctors, nurses and those in allied health services are saying things are crook, then those of us who do, or could one day need their help, the patients, probably should get behind them.

This is a fight for the community’s health. Mum and dad, nan and pop, the kids. Everyone. The people of the Manning.

 And rather than be defensive, I’d like to think that those in positions of power might embrace the moment. No amount of spin will make those who have already been profoundly let down, feel better.

And after everything we’ve all heard, it would be shameful if nothing was to change.”

The only cold comfort we can take from all this is that we are not alone. There are other rural/regional hospitals in NSW who suffer the same fate of understaffing, under funding, mismanagement and lack of facilities despite dedicated staff.

Do all roads point to Newcastle ????


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