Monday evening’s Inverell Hospital redevelopment meeting will likely prove to be the single most important discussion and gathering in the journey to build a new hospital that meets the community’s health needs over the coming decades.
The discussion was robust and frank but quite productive. It was a meeting, that in my view, should have been had over 12 months ago.
For the first time in the planning process, the meeting brought together almost all the local doctors and clinicians, representatives from Inverell Shire Council, Hunter New England Health, NSW Health Infrastructure and the local State MP to discuss this project. It was also the first opportunity any of those involved had to discuss some of the more detailed proposed schematic design plans for the redevelopment.
This revealed a critical issue, which concerned everyone in the room, that the Inverell population statistics and forward projections used by Hunter New England Health as the basis for determining the scope of services and therefore proposed infrastructure in the redevelopment, were out of date and inaccurate. This was something many suspected for some time, but Monday’s meeting was the first time it had been revealed.
The Inverell community, and the population of the surrounding district, is growing and so is the demand on the hospital. This trend will continue. The population and the use of the hospital is not declining, as was clearly assumed in the out-dated statistical analysis used for the draft plans.
Given that the new hospital will serve the community for the next 30-40 years, it is vital that the services and infrastructure is designed to meet the health needs of the Inverell district for decades to come. If the assumptions underpinning planning decision are flawed today, even by just a little, that will consign future generations to a health facility not capable of meeting their needs. That idea is not acceptable.
Hunter New England Health conceded this point at the meeting and acknowledged that there were issues with figures used in designing their Clinical Services Plan. They committed to coming back to another meeting within a month with the figures that were used in the early planning and to update them, in consultation with local clinicians, with the latest Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, which clearly demonstrates the district is growing.
With the latest and most accurate population data and projections being used, this is likely to significantly change the scope of the redevelopment, for the better. This will also likely address the justified concerns of local clinicians about the capability of new infrastructure to meet service demands as Inverell continues to grow.
I am absolutely determined as the Local MP to make sure this happens. This redevelopment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a brand new hospital, health services and infrastructure for the Inverell community – something it deserves and needs, particularly in the face of a growing and aging population over the coming decades.
We only get one shot at this redevelopment and we must get it right. That’s why I was very pleased to see everyone turn up at that meeting, to have a frank discussion and get issues on the table, working towards a resolution now, rather than waiting for next year when it would be far too late to make any changes.
While it is disappointing that this meeting did not occur sooner, and that I had to seek the intervention of the Health Minister to ensure it did, now that is has, we need to rule a line under the past.
Through forging a new commitment and a new relationship between Hunter New England Health, the local clinicians, council and community, Inverell can get the health service and hospital it can be proud of.
While I am optimistic about the upcoming meeting, we all need to be vigilant and I’ll be working doubly hard, along with council, to ensure we get a redevelopment that will improve the lives of patients, clinicians and the community for future decades.
I’ll continue to keep the community updated with progress following the next meeting.