Monday, 10 September 2018
Macquarie Electorate: Bushfires, Macquarie Electorate: Hospitals
It's barely spring, but in New South Wales the bushfire season has been declared. It might not mean a lot for city dwellers, but for those of us on the urban fringe it's not a good sign. In spite of recent rain New South Wales is described as a tinderbox. For the uninitiated, tinderbox is an expression that until recent years we didn't hear until midway through a blistering summer. February, March or even April is more traditionally described that way, so to hear it in September is scary. The Rural Fire Service says that literally millions of people are at risk from bushfires this season in New South Wales. In the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury we know we're included. This year saw the seventh driest May on record in New South Wales, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, followed by another dry June, which continued a run of 14 consecutive months of warmer-than-average daytime temperatures. The records are likely to continue breaking in coming months.
So it's no surprise that residents flocked to the Blue Mountains Bushfire Building Community Forum at the weekend, where experts from the New South Wales RFS and other bushfire professionals shared their knowledge, tips and advice for people living and working in bushfire-prone areas. This was part of a two-day event, with the other day for the industry to get the latest in bushfire design and construction. It's an initiative that came out of the 2013 Winmalee fires five years ago, and was organised by Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise and supported by the RFS. I want to thank everyone involved in continuing to raise awareness about how we best protect ourselves. I also congratulate those involved in the production of Fire Stories, which looks at the Blue Mountains fires, another useful educational tool for people living in bushfire areas. The Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, with the support of the RFS, National Parks and Wildlife and Blue Mountains City Council, have made a powerful documentary that I'd encourage people to see. I would also flag the upcoming workshop by Blue ARC that helps you plan for your animals in a bushfire or other natural disaster. It is on at Springwood on 6 October and details are on my Facebook page. It would be remiss of me not to note that the banking royal commission is about to turn its attention to insurance, with the treatment of bushfire victims scheduled to be in the spotlight. After the Blue Mountains experience, I believe there is much to be done to ensure home owners' interests are protected and I look forward to seeing this come under the spotlight.
It is no secret that the largest hospital servicing my electorate, Nepean Hospital, is facing huge pressures. It recently secured the unfortunate distinction of being the most under-pressure hospital in the state. We all know an upgrade is urgently needed. The people bearing the brunt of the breaking point that this hospital has reached are the patients and staff, many of whom live in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury and work long hours to improve people's health. Ten per cent of patients wait almost 11 hours in the emergency department. There is a wait of 315 days for elective surgery, 285 days for knee replacements, 274 days for total hip replacements and nine days short of a year to get your tonsils out. You are lucky if you have a hernia, because the wait is only 248 days. Many of us think that elective means that it's not so necessary, but if you're waiting for a cataract operation and can't drive it has a massive impact on your life. If you're waiting for a new hip or knee, the consequences of coping with pain for nine or 10 months takes its toll on your work, life and family.
By contrast, the government says people at Blue Mountains District ANZAC Memorial Hospital are receiving their elective surgery within the clinically recommended time frame. But there are plenty of things that don't happen at Blue Mountains Hospital at Katoomba. That's because there is no MRI machine. The public MRI machine at Nepean Hospital is working around the clock. It's needed to investigate or diagnose soft tissue conditions, so it's used for dementia and stroke patients, for sports injuries, dodgy knees, cancer patients and spinal injuries.
Right now patients' treatment is delayed while waiting for an MRI, and doctors in Katoomba have the inefficiency of having patients travelling up to an hour to Nepean for a diagnostic scan, and that assumes that patients will even come back to Katoomba and not just stay at Nepean, placing further pressure on beds. The sensible decision will be to have an MRI machine in Katoomba Hospital. Doctors tell me it would speed up treatment of patients. It would certainly spare many the two-hour return journey and help reduce pressure on Nepean's MRI, meaning a better service for everyone in the west. Labor knows the impact the shortage of MRI machines is having. We have promised 10 new machines for public hospitals and 20 all up. Patients and medical experts in the Blue Mountains have said to me loud and clear, 'We need an MRI at Katoomba,' and I'll be fighting for that.