31 May 2024

Steph Cooke lashes out over Cootamundra Hospital consultation ‘schemozzle’

| Chris Roe
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MP Steph Cooke at a community consultation event.

MP Steph Cooke described a community consultation event with MLHD as ‘farcical’. Photo: Supplied.

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke has taken a swipe at the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD), describing the community consultation process over Cootamundra Hospital changes as “farcical”.

An information session was held in Cootamundra this week to explain the draft Health Service Plan for the hospital that could see pathology, surgical and birthing units make way for more spaces in the emergency department.

“The MLHD’s so-called community consultation session on Tuesday night gave true meaning to the term ‘schemozzle’,” Ms Cooke said.

“Not only was it held at a time when MLHD staff knew full-well the local councillors would be an hour away in Gundagai at their regular monthly meeting, the session was poorly advertised, there wasn’t enough seating at the venue which meant many older residents were forced to stand, and let’s face it, 6 pm on a weeknight isn’t really a family-friendly hour to hold a meeting.”

According to Ms Cooke, copies of the plan were not made available and community members were not able to properly speak against the changes due to “a lack of audio equipment”.

“I have never experienced such disrespect for our community, especially on a matter of such importance to our people and our future,” she said.

“It was a slap in the face frankly, for the people that turned up on a cold weekday evening with an earnest wish to have their say and provide feedback and input.”

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In response to Ms Cooke’s allegations, a spokesperson said communities had played a critical role in developing the plan.

“Significant stakeholder engagement has been undertaken involving local clinical staff, consumers, community representatives, key stakeholders and health organisations to inform the draft plan,” the spokesperson said.

“Staff from MLHD have visited Cootamundra over a two-day period to hear feedback directly from the community. We would like to extend our gratitude to the many people that have taken the time to provide their feedback in person to our team.

“We also want to assure the community we are listening carefully to their feedback, which will help us ensure the draft plan reflects the community’s priorities for healthcare.”

More than 850 people have completed the Cootamundra Health Services Survey. However, local opposition has also been fierce, with more than 600 people signing a Change.org petition to “Save Cootamundra’s Pathology, Surgical and Birthing Departments”.

Ms Cooke said Tuesday’s meeting called into question whether the draft plan accurately reflected community sentiment and needs.

“Far from answering the community’s concerns or taking their feedback, the meeting has called into question not only the integrity of the draft plan, but the integrity of the entire process that has led us to this point,” Ms Cooke said.

“This is about trust and transparency. MLHD needs to rip up the current draft and start again and this time do what they promised, and give the community the respect they deserve by engaging with the people the plan will impact the most: that’s the right thing to do.”

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Ms Cooke claimed MLHD had not addressed concerns over the reduction of services and said a recent parliamentary committee report on birth trauma highlighted the need to retain maternity services locally.

“This committee and its work is a world first, and it fundamentally found that urgent efforts must be made to address avoidable and preventable factors that contribute to birth trauma,” she said.

“At a local level, what this report clearly demonstrates is that now is not the time to be even thinking about cutting maternity services in our regions; our community deserves better.”

Ms Cooke said she would take the matter further.

“Failing that, I will be working with my parliamentary colleagues in the Upper House to propose a motion forcing the government to deliver all documents relating to the creation of the plan,” she said.

“If they are genuine that there are no cuts planned, put it in writing; put it in black and white and in plain speak for all to see.”

MLHD said it continued to encourage community members to provide their thoughts on the draft plan which was on display at the hospital, HealthOne, Cootamundra Gundagai Regional Council and Cootamundra Library, as well as on MLHD’s website.

Written feedback can also be provided anonymously at collection boxes at those locations.

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