11 October 2023

Griffith patients still forced to travel to Wagga for broken bone treatment, despite 25 years of promises

| Oliver Jacques
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Child with broken arm

A Griffith child who breaks a bone during weekend sport faces a two-hour drive to Wagga for treatment. Photo: Flickr/Richard Masoner.

Griffith patients are still having to travel two hours to Wagga to get a broken bone treated, despite repeated assurances over the past 25 years that orthopaedic [bone] services would be delivered at the town’s public hospital.

Orthopaedic surgery was reportedly first performed at Griffith Base Hospital in 1998, when Wagga-based visiting specialist Dr Paul Miniter operated on patient Steven Rudka as part of a temporary two-week service. At the time, the then hospital general manager John Beer said he hoped an ongoing service could be launched in 1999.

However, this service never got off the ground on a permanent basis.

By June 2021, the then NSW health minister Brad Hazzard revealed a staggering 1268 patient transfers occurred from Griffith Base Hospital to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital for orthopaedics in the six years up to that point.

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This figure caused outrage in the community and led to a renewed push in Griffith for broken bone operations to be provided closer to home.

By May 2022, there was much relief when minister Hazzard made this response to a parliamentary question on notice: “Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) has recruited two orthopaedic surgeons to provide public orthopaedic services in Griffith. The visiting medical officers, based at the Griffith Base Hospital, will commence orientation in June [2022].”

However, 18 months later, Region understands that limited orthopaedic surgery takes place at Griffith Base Hospital and that all emergency patients are still forced to travel to bigger cities.

The MLHD refused to answer a question from Region on how many Griffith patients were transferred to Wagga to treat broken bones and fractures during the 2022 calendar year.

“Murrumbidgee Local Health District is committed to ensuring all patients in Griffith have access to high quality and timely surgical care,” MLHD said in a statement.

“Griffith Base Hospital employs two orthopaedic surgeons. A third orthopaedic surgeon is currently progressing through recruitment and expected to commence later this year.

“Emergency orthopaedic surgery is available seven days a week in Griffith for suitable cases and elective orthopaedic surgery for public patients is performed up to three days a week.”

Local health advocate Brendan Catanzariti described these assertions as “complete spin”.

“They’re not doing any operations, as far as I’m aware there’s only been one operation and certainly no emergency operations at all,” he said.

“The MLHD keep making false promises, they keep changing the goal posts and keep putting the spin on it.”

Griffith Base Hospital banner

Griffith Base Hospital is being redeveloped, but it’s still unclear whether orthopaedic services are “coming soon”. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Mr Catanzariti said the orthopaedic surgeons employed by MLHD lived in other cities, only occasionally travelled to Griffith and didn’t provide care in emergency situations.

This has been confirmed by several other sources.

If, for example, a boy breaks his arm playing football on the weekend, he will still have to make the two-hour trip to Wagga, as has been the case for the past 25 years.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that people have to travel two hours to get a bone set,” Mr Catanzariti said. “The MLHD has been hiding behind excuses for years … you can’t even get the stats, because they’re hiding them.

“They don’t want orthopaedic services in Griffith because it takes away from orthopaedic services elsewhere.”

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Orthopaedic surgeons who have wanted to move to Griffith to work at the hospital have been repeatedly frustrated by MLHD bureaucratic barriers over the past decade, Region has been informed.

NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said more services would be available at the redeveloped hospital being built in town in a recent media release, though he didn’t mention orthopaedic services.

“When complete, the purpose-built clinical services building will house all major health services under the one roof, significantly enhancing health services and facilities for Griffith and surrounding communities,” he said.

There is also no reference to orthopaedics at the new hospital in the most recent NSW Government project update newsletter issued in July 2023, nor was there any mention of bone services in the previous media release issued in September 2023, which celebrated women in construction who were building the new development.

The new hospital is scheduled for completion in 2025.

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