Last Monday I had the privilege of meeting with the General Manager (GM) of Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) Sue Shilbury, and the Divisional Manager of Allied Health, Frances Tolliday, to discuss accommodation. I would like to share with you the outcomes from that meeting as they are very important.
I travel to Sydney for treatment one week out of every four. Until now I have had the stressful job of negotiating with RNSH to subsidise accommodation every month. They have not been easy to negotiate with on this.
At the meeting the GM gave me her word that RNSH would subsidise my accommodation each month until the end of this year. This is a big win as it removes the stress of having to lobby for accommodation for myself each month. This also sets a precedent for others who are not able to afford accommodation when referred to RNSH for healthcare. This does not, however, solve the long-term problem of the lack of onsite accommodation at RNSH.
During the meeting the GM admitted that she had known about the date of closure of Blue Gum Lodge 6mths before it happened. She also said that plans had been drawn up for “some” onsite country patient accommodation in the last few years. At the last minute another group was given the site and the plans for accommodation were scrapped. This is important to note.
The intermediate plan for onsite accommodation involves the “Douglas Building” at RNSH. This building will become available in December 2014 when the current occupants move to a new building (currently under construction). Ms Shilbury mentioned however that there are other groups vying for this site and no plans have been drawn up for patient accommodation in this building. This is not good enough. There are still no guarantee that the site will not be taken by someone else as what happened last time.
The long-term plans are even more fluid. To date there is no site marked for long-term country patient accommodation. There is therefore no plans drawn up. One possible site was mentioned but there are several contenders for it. Also, Ms Shilbury could not tell me how many beds it would be. She claims there is no way to find out how many will be needed despite the fact that Social Work and the Cancer Council have this data. She would not be moved on this claim. Instead the GM has decided to ask the Social Work department to log how many people need accommodation in the next 2mths. This is a grossly inadequate method for determining the need for accommodation as not everyone speaks with the Social Work department about their need.
Sue Shilbury and Frances Tolliday gave me their word that country patient accommodation is a top priority for RNSH. However, I am not convinced. There is no commitment to planning and building accommodation or to really finding out how many people need accommodation each week. There is still many barriers in place to stop people accessing subsidised accommodation in the interim and no understanding of the importance of removing these barriers. The bottom line is that the GM of RNSH does not believe that country patient accommodation is important or her responsibility. She has agreed to personally keep me informed of the progress with the long-term plans for onsite, purpose-built patient accommodation. I hope she keeps to her word on this as I believe we have a long way to go in progressing plans. I will keep you all informed of any progress.
In the meantime we need to continue to put pressure on the major hospitals in Sydney and on the State Government to provide onsite affordable accommodation for country people. We need a fair go on this issue. If you are travelling to RNSH for your healthcare please contact the social work department and let them know. If you cannot afford to pay for accommodation please tell the Social Work Department so they can secure funding for you. Sue Shilbury gave me her word that no one will be turned away if they need accommodation subsidised by RNSH. We need to take her on her word. No one should have to go into debt over accommodation just to get the treatment that is their right to have. Also please consider writing to Sue Shilbury about the lack of accommodation and how this affects you. She needs to hear from those it is disadvantaging.
Thank you so much for your ongoing support. This meeting was an important step in this campaign. We now know where we stand with RNSH! We will continue to lobby for accommodation at all tertiary hospitals in NSW. Keep up the good work!