The resignation of much-needed GP obstetricians in Murwillumbah due to the downgrading of maternity services is a tragic loss to their community and unfortunately typical of the trend in NSW health services, AMA (NSW) said today.

“The shortage of doctors in rural and regional centres is as much due to the loss of hospital services as the international shortage of medical professionals. Doctors cannot work where there is a threat to patient safety from the lack of back-up services, such as after-hours emergency surgery,” said AMA (NSW) President Dr Brian Morton.

“In the last 15 years about half of the rural maternity units in NSW have closed, the latest one being at Pambula. Others are under-serviced, such as the Blue Mountains or, like Murwillumbah, under threat.

“It is unethical and dangerous to maintain that a maternity service is available to patients when the essential back-up has been withdrawn. It is also disturbing to see these cuts in areas with high population growth, and overcrowded hospitals.

“Procedural GPs offering multiple health services are the core of medical care in many regional communities. Their role cannot be replaced.

“NSW urgently needs to rethink the trend to centralisation of medical care before more resignations occur and to involve doctors in clinical service planning.

“We need decisions on clinical services to be made honestly and transparently, and the process should not drag on for years.”