ST VINCENT'S HOSPITAL, LISMORE, REHABILITATION UNIT
Mr THOMAS GEORGE (Lismore) [5.50 p.m.]: Tonight I raise a problem in the electorate of Lismore and the Northern Rivers area. I have been reluctant to raise the matter in the House because it has been progressing through various stages. I refer to the rehabilitation unit at St Vincent's Hospital in Lismore. Some weeks ago, together with the honourable member for Clarence and the honourable member for Ballina, I convened a public meeting in Lismore, which was attended by the Mayor of Ballina council, Mr Phillip Silver; the Mayor of Lismore City Council, Merv King; the Mayor of Richmond Valley Council, Charles Cox; the Mayor of Tenterfield Shire Council, Toby Smith; and the Mayor of Kyogle Council, Ernie Bennett. The meeting showed the community that we represented the whole of the region, not just Ballina or Lismore; we were talking for the region.
I convened the meeting because of concern about what was happening to the regional rehabilitation centre based at St Vincent's Hospital in Lismore. It had been indicated that the unit would be transferred from Lismore to Ballina. This is not about whether Ballina or Lismore should have the beds. Ballina needs rehabilitation beds, and it is getting them. The people of the Northern Rivers region, the mayors, and the members of Parliament are opposed to shifting the beds from Lismore to Ballina. At the meeting, at which there was a fair bit of ill feeling displayed by the North Coast Area Health Service Chief Executive, Chris Crawford, towards St Vincent's Hospital, it was announced that the unit at St Vincent's Hospital would be closed and shifted to Ballina.
Since then they have held two further meetings and rallies. Everyone supports the retention of the unit in Lismore. That is necessary because people who live west of Lismore, and as far away as Tenterfield, use this service. It would be impossible for them to travel to Ballina to access it. Furthermore, the unit in Lismore should be retained because all the necessary specialist services, together with the hydrotherapy pool, are located at the facility and are available on request. Finally, area health service representatives and St Vincent's Hospital representatives have been in negotiations over the past two or three weeks. I compliment Chris Crawford and Bob Welsh, the Chief Executive Officer of St Vincent's Hospital. Commonsense has prevailed and both organisations have been negotiating for some time.
I pay tribute to the community, which supports the retention of the rehabilitation unit in Lismore. I refer to Tony Madden, a Lismore citizen; Marshall Fittler, representing Community Watch; and Dr Doreen Bacon, whose life has been the rehabilitation service in Lismore. Dr Bacon has been referred to as a rebel doctor, but I can assure honourable members that she is not. Action has been taken because of her drive, experience and initiative. She has continually fought the system; she has continually pointed out that the decision to close the unit at St Vincent's Hospital is wrong. Nevertheless, she has not wavered at all. She has been supported by other doctors.
Recently, 110 doctors, medical specialists and other support staff signed a petition to retain the rehabilitation unit. That is unheard of; the Australian Medical Association has never had anything like it. I pay tribute to the mayors, Dr Chris Ingle and Rob Simon from the local MSC Council, who have been fighting to retain this unit in Lismore. I again compliment Chris Crawford and Bob Welsh. Both organisations are finally negotiating, and I hope that at the end of this week a suitable solution will be found to retain this unit in Lismore to provide a service that the people of not only Lismore but the Northern Rivers rightly deserve. I thank everyone for their support on this issue.