What Happened in Cohuna Last Week?

This blog post is dedicated to the events that happened in Cohuna at the Hospital last week. I think it’s an issue that everyone needs to understand. Small rural communities are fighting for medical services every day. Tim is on our Local Health Medical Trust in Barham and they have lost two great Doctors this year because of changes higher up and a complete disregard for our community. Last weeks events in Cohuna were no different.  I thought I’d outline what happened last week in Cohuna as far as I understand it and I hope it helps you to understand the difficulties we have in rural communities in securing and maintaining health services. It’s not because of people here in the communities who work tirelessly, it comes from people higher up making il-infomred decisions and something needs to change.

Last week on Monday the 13th of November, for no apparent reason and all of a sudden Dr Barker and the Cohuna hospital staff were told by the administration of Echuca Regional Health, who manage Cohuna Hospital that the decision had been made to bypass all obstetrics services from Cohuna hospital effective immediately. After some negotiation Dr Barker managed to negotiate to keep services open until the Friday at which time the management would visit again to discuss the bypass.

Dr Barker took some time over the course of Monday and Tuesday to investigate what was going on and was unable to find any clear answers as to why this had happened and why so suddenly. The only thing they told him was that he was the sole GP doing obstetrics and so must be tired but they had never discussed this with him.  They also said that Safer Care Victoria had said there were safety concerns. Dr Barker contacted Prof Euan Wallace the head of Safe Care Victoria and he said there were no safety issues being discussed at Cohuna Hospital.

Tuesday night a message went out to community via social media of what was happening and by 11am the next morning there were over 250 people as well as media gathered in the Cohuna Park to hear from Dr Barker. It was pretty incredible. The Primary School turned up with gorgeous little banners, which brought a tear to my eye and I am sure many others and the whole community showed how much they value their hospital and it’s staff. I spoke about how much I love the hospital and the fact that it was pretty terrifying not knowing where we would deliver our babies now, especially seeing as though I’d already had one on the side of the road and it was frightening! This decision had myself and 40 or so other women left with no idea what we were meant to do if we went in to labour. We weren’t booked in to other hospitals, we hadn’t met other doctors and nobody from Echuca Regional Health had contacted us. What were we to do?  I felt it was completely insulting and a complete disregard for the women in our community. I was worried not so much for myself but for all the first time mothers or for those with mental health issues. What if some of the women due to give birth had prenatal depression? How would this effect them?

That night the events were reported on the news and on social media and as well as radio, still with no clear explanation as to what was going on.

For the next few days we were in limbo, not knowing what we should do.

On Friday meetings were scheduled with the Echuca Hospital Administration including the CEO Michael Delahunty and the Director of Medical Services, Dr Howlett and the GPs and hospital staff. Once again the community gathered around in peaceful protest to show their support for the hospital. Following the meetings Dr Barker came out to make a statement and confirmed that the hospital had been placed on bypass for all obstetrics with no real reason given, other than that they felt it was too much for Dr Barker by himself and it was unsafe. So the Doctors had decided that if they were unsafe to complete obstetrics services then they were unsafe to complete all the other far more risky services they complete at the hospital on a daily basis and so they went on strike effective immediately and placed all services on bypass.

News of this once again quickly spread via social media and the community were very upset, but fully supportive of the Doctors decision.

Luckily, this only lasted for 4 hours when we were notified that all hospital services were back up and running, including obstetrics.

So for now, we have a good result, but I fear this is not the end of it and I really question what on earth is going on?  There’s a few things that I really think need further scrutiny and answers.

  • Echuca Regional Health have still given no real justifiable reason as why all this happened and why the sudden decision which placed so many women at greater risk ws made. I feel like it was a complete lack of respect for our community and I can not understand the actions that were taken.
  • I spoke to the Chairman of the Echuca Regional health board last week who is also our newly elected Mayor in the Murray River Shire and he had no idea of what was happening and was not aware of the decision made by the executive management of Echuca Regional Health for Cohuna Hospital which I think is quite strange and really not acceptable.
  • Echuca Regional Health put out a Facebook post on Wednesday the 15th of November which stated that Cohuna District Hospital were urgently seeking an experienced GP obstetrician, which is very strange as the hospital don’t even employ the doctors in Cohuna, Ochre Health do.
  • Another statement on Facebook on Wednesday the 15th by Echuca Regional Health also said that “the departure of a GP obstetrician had left Cohuna with what is, in effect a single GP practitioner maternity service” which Dr Barker says is also incorrect as there had been a GP obstetrician Dr Mina Younan who recently left but he was only accredited for obstetrics under Dr Barker’s supervision. So, Dr Barker had actually been the sole GP practitioner for 15 years. So it makes no sense to all of a sudden decide he was unsafe or too tired, particularly without even talking to him about it.
  • The decision to put the obstetrics on bypass was not taken to the whole board of Cohuna Hospital. Only the Chairperson signed off on it, which is also very strange.

Dr Barker has written an extensive letter to the Ministers and in it he states that we have witnessed a planned, organised, and institutional oppression of rural women and a blatant attack on their safety. I totally agree with this and I am really appalled at what has gone on.

I think last weeks events showed what a small rural community can do when they are under threat and that we will not stand for that sort of treatment. We have a perfectly good, safe, operating hospital which is cherished and highly valued in this community and we will fight for it.

I’m so proud to be part of this community and I’d like to say a big thank you to Dr Barker and all the other Doctors and medical staff in Cohuna for your brilliant display of leadership in the face of such an insulting display by Echuca Regional Health last week. Our community has shown that when people stand up and fight for what they believe in great things can be achieved. This community will not let you take our hospital away and there are some serious questions that still need answers.

I would encourage anyone in our community to write letters to the Health Minister and ask for more answers. We can’t let this go as it will happen again.

Thanks for reading.