HEALTH Minister Jillian Skinner has refused to commit to a parliamentary inquiry into health and ambulance services in Orange despite three deaths at the health service being investigated in the past four months and allegations of a paramedic shortage.
Earlier this week, Orange councillor Glenn Taylor called for a parliamentary inquiry into the shortage of paramedics in Orange following paramedic Ian Spurway being placed on desk duties while an “operational matter” is investigated.
The Central West Community Union Alliance applauded Cr Taylor’s initiative, but wants an inquiry to go one step further and investigate the entire Orange health system after a recent string of high-profile deaths at the hospital.
The health service is yet to publicly reveal the results of a root cause analysis investigation into the death of Sharon Wyatt, who died from a fatal dose of morphine administered at the hospital in September.
Coronial investigations are currently underway into the death of two-year-old Nicolas Charnock who died after being sent home from the hospital on December 15, and the death of Deeana Maric’s daughter Arriana Mae Maric who died during childbirth on December 16.
Alliance spokesman Bernard Fitzsimon said the government was jeopardising health outcomes for the Orange community to balance the state’s budget and he feared more services would be centralised to Sydney.
“We think this a much wider issue than punishing and vilifying an acting union official who, acting in his union capacity, dared to expose community concerns,” he said.
“The NSW state government is playing The Hunger Games with health outcomes in rural and regional NSW.”
But a NSW Ambulance spokesman said Mr Spurway had been placed on “alternative duties” while an operational matter is investigated, not because of his role in the union.
Mr Fitzsimon said he believed the problems at the health service were a result of cost cutting.
“This is not about the competency of the nursing staff, this is about budget cuts,” he said.
But Mrs Skinner said there had been no cuts to the Western NSW Local Health District.
“In fact we have increased its budget by $21 million to $716.8 million,” she said.
“The NSW Coroner is already conducting investigations into two cases at Orange hospital and serious attention will be given to recommendations made by the coroner.”
Mr Fitzsimon said the Orange station was two paramedics down this week with Mr Spurway on desk duties and a second paramedic sent to relieve in Coolah.
But the Ambulance NSW spokesman said Mr Fitzsimon’s claims were incorrect as all shifts had been filled.
“Normal operational staffing has been maintained at Orange ambulance station and it is incorrect to suggest that Orange ambulance station is two paramedics short,” he said.
“There has been no paramedic shortfall.”
Alliance spokesman Joe Maric said a paramedics shortage was an ongoing issue for Orange citing a case on New Year’s Eve when firefighters responded to a patient with chest pain at a nursing home when no ambulances were available.
But Mrs Skinner said paramedic response times at Orange were “some of the best in the state”.
“The station’s staffing levels are comparable to similar rural locations,” she said.