By Stephen O'Brien
NEWCASTLE — A community and trade union picket is being maintained round the clock at Wallsend Hospital's three entrances to prevent the transfer of patients and hospital facilities.
The Hunter Area Health Service is attempting to sacrifice the hospital after a massive blow-out in the board's budget. Picketers Phil Hessie, an organiser for the Health and Research Employees Association, and Col McDonnell, an HREA member at the hospital explained the issues to Green Left.
Hessie said that people were having to wait up to five hours at the recently opened high-tech John Hunter Hospital. He pointed out that during the rally of 12,500 people on August 28, patients were actually being transferred into Wallsend Hospital because there were no beds at John Hunter.
McDonnell was concerned that there would be no casualty hospital between Sydney and Raymond Terrace on the western side of Lake Macquarie if Wallsend Hospital closed. High-tech medicine is no substitute for patient and community services.
Women are playing a leading role on the picket. Chris Lines, a local resident, has been on the picket every day since it was set up on August 19. She pointed out that Wallsend Hospital is highly efficient. When the Wallsend Hospital had its own laundry, hospital sheets were changed every day. Since contractors have taken over, the sheets are changed only every three days.
Every Wednesday has been demonstration day in the Hunter for the past four weeks as tens of thousands have mobilised to prepare for a showdown if the state government tries to move patients and facilities.