The Manning Base Hospital in Taree is continuing to struggle to provide adequate services to the Forster-Tuncurry, Taree Manning Valley and Gloucester areas. 

With a resident population of 100,000 which can double in holiday periods, the underfunded hospital hasn’t been able to cope for years. Problems have been highlighted during times of bushfires and floods as well as covid lockdowns. And it’s occurring right now due to the holiday population explosion.

The MBH with support from Mayo and Forster hospitals are simply not coping. Staff morale is low and vacancies are not being filled. There is too much reliance on locum doctors, short term staff contracts and excessive overtime particularly by frontline staff.

Dr Murray Hyde Page, Chairman of the Medical Staff of MBH, revealed he recently received  yet another text message from the hospital, “Good morning doctors, beds are at critical levels and causing a backlog in ED. Please review all possible discharges and transfers urgently. One bed available at Forster and no beds available at Mayo.”

We are now at a tipping point.

So what is the solution?

Dr Murray Hyde Page has now agreed he is in a position to make a public statement about the state of the hospital and its future needs.

“In the short term we need to adequately resource nursing and allied health staff as well as junior and senior doctors. There is also a need for administrative and support staff. These staff want secure long-term employment.

MBH is clearly short of beds. An immediate and temporary solution is to use vacant space next to the Emergency Ward as an Emergency Short Stay Unit. HNEH (Hunter New England Health) is looking at doing this right now and bringing this online before next winter when bed shortages will occur. However time is of the essence. 

In the last few years MBH has been able to work collaboratively with the Mayo and Forster Private Hospital where public beds are now available. These hospitals are also helping to reduce Public Hospital surgical waiting lists which have blown out greatly. 

But these and other measures however are only short-term options. Until a complete upgrade of the MBH is undertaken there will be no long-term solution.

“MBH has presently secured $100M to undertake stage 2 redevelopment. However this is behind schedule and the starting date has already been put back.

It is also apparent that stage 2 construction cannot be undertaken independently of stage 3. The internal refurbishment of the present MBH can only be done at the same time and it will be impossible to come back at a later stage to do the further refurbishment of stage 3. This does not pass the common sense test and the cost blow out would be enormous. You cannot come back and put the 4th floor on the In-patient Unit at a later date. This has to be a part of stage 2!!  As it is, stage 2 will take at least 3 years with disruption of hospital services.

“HNEH understands this and have already done the preliminary planning of stage 3 at a further cost of $115M. this could be undertaken at the same time of stage 2 in the same time period. These costs for stage 3 have been provided to the NSW government –

Funds needed to complete MBH development (stage 3)

1.  $22M additional 4th floor Inpatient Unit

2. $7.5M Connection Spine

3. $9M Non Cancer Infusion Service

Expansion Out Patient Clinic

4. Enhance ED for increased presentations, including Medical Acute Care Unit

5. $12M level 2 Paediatric Maternity and Special Care Unit

6. $38M increase surgical capacity and expand post operative lounge

7. $10M Intensive Care Unit expansion

The NSW government through the Rural and Regional Health Department have been asked to commit to the immediate funding of stage 2 and 3 together but we are still waiting for an answer. Instead they appear to be distracted by whether or not the area needs a Forster Public Hospital. Outside the government there is no support for this project other than an Urgent Care Centre that would be supported by the Emergency Department of MBH. The Clinical Services Plan of HNEH supports this development of the Forster Hospital which already has public hospital facilities and would support an Urgent Care Centre being built.

Any development in Forster should complement rather than just duplicate services provided at the MBH,” says Dr Hyde Page.

The need for a full upgrade of MBH is indeed urgent.  Candidates for the upcoming election include a male and a female nurse, (Labor and Greens) and all candidates must surely see the upgrade of the hospital as a major election platform.

Perhaps as we all agree that the hospital is a priority and the full plans and costings are ready, and all that’s needed is money and the go ahead, then why don’t all candidates agree this is a no brainer and advocate together. The re-do of Manning Base Hospital is a priority issue for everyone and so each candidate can detail their other platforms, promises and issues? 

Representatives from the Manning Base Hospital as well as candidates are hoping to meet soon with the current Minister for Regional Health, Bronnie Taylor.

Mr Eddie Wood, President of the Manning Great Lakes Combined Health Action Group agrees.

“Manning Great Lakes Community Health Action Group fully supports Murray Hyde-Page (Chairman of the Medical Staff Council of Manning Base Hospital), Doctors, Allied Health personnel and all other categories of staff in their endeavours to obtain more funding to complete Stage 2 and 3 of the proposed re-development at the same time, and in its entirety. There are major issues that require immediate action, and substantially more funding, not the slow drip feed that we have seen in the last 4 years.

Manning Base Hospital remains in a crisis situation as was highlighted in the 2021 NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into health in rural, regional and remote NSW.

Lack of clinical staff … doctors, nurses and allied health personnel who do not stay in the area due to poor infrastructure and support.

The $100 million for Stage 2 is old money promised 4 years ago by The Nationals and still nothing has been done.

It is imperative that Stage 2 & 3 are completed simultaneously and in their entirety … not just Stage 2 on its own. This will require considerably more funding on top of the $100 million.

Completion of an Urgent Care Centre at Forster as supported by the HNEH Clinical Services Plan, complementing services that are provided at Manning Base Hospital.

It is also of the utmost importance that Manning Base Hospital be brought up to the standard of an acute care hospital with adequate and appropriate funding, staffing and education programs in place as recommended by Professor Balogh in his review and report of our hospital in 2017.

There is, and has been, talk of a hospital in Forster, but no details have been forth coming for the community  and according to Dr Hyde Page it is not feasible and is not in any plan.

The number one priority for the Manning Great Lakes Area is that the full Stage 2 and 3 of the Manning Base Hospital is completed in its entirety so that it can service and meet the health needs of the community.

The community needs to engage with ALL political parties to implore them to set aside party politics and to work together to make the completion of Manning Base Hospital Redevelopment a reality and not a pipe dream.”

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