Community rallies against hospital service closure

A 150-strong community meeting on July 29 called on the NSW government to urgently re-open the region's only maternity unit, at Blue Mountains Hospital in Katoomba.

The unit was suddenly closed on July 21, apparently due to staffing shortages. Women in their final stages of pregnancy were given only a few days' notice to re-book at Nepean Hospital, located up to 130 kilometres away from Blue Mountains residents.

The public meeting, organised by the Hospital Equity and Access Lobby (HEAL), followed a protest rally outside Katoomba hospital on July 21, at which 50 locals holding placards expressed their outrage at being left in the lurch by the government and at the lack of community consultation about the closure.

It is the second time in six years that the Katoomba birthing unit has been closed. The maternity ward at Lithgow Hospital was closed last year, and there is no guarantee that beds will be available at Nepean Hospital when they are needed by women from the Blue Mountains.

Even getting to Nepean Hospital while in labour is a big health risk as the Great Western Highway, which is the only road from the top of the mountains to Nepean, is frequently closed for extended periods by traffic accidents. As one woman explained at the public meeting, "Between the two-hour drive from Katoomba to Nepean and the number of traffic accidents, there's a good chance that we will all be giving birth on the side of the road in our car!"

Local MP Phil Koperberg made a public commitment on July 21 that the service would be re-opened by September 1 — a promise that HEAL member Janet Mays told the meeting her organisation intends to hold him to.

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