FUTURE CV: How important would private hospital be?
BIG changes in the Clarence Valley health sector look certain to give residents more options.
A tale of two hospitals
The $263 million redevelopment of Grafton Base Hospital and the creation of a private hospital will offer residents more services, and could grow the local economy.
"It is going to attract not just new people but new services. At the moment people are having access to those services but they have to go away to do it," said GBH medical staff chairman Alan Tyson.
"If we go forward and build a hospital which has got to be larger and probably of the order of 175 beds, that requires employment," Dr Tyson said.
He said there was significant interest from those in the medical industry for a private hospital and it was "very positive" NSW Health and the health services recognised the hospital had to be redeveloped.
"The medical community is enthusiastic about the opportunities new practitioners will have to deliver health services to the community in a way that has not been done before.
Surgeon Sam Martin said gaining a private hospital was "a slow-moving process" but he had spoken to interested parties who visited Grafton and met with local doctors.
"We expect more of those to happen," Dr Martin said.
A private hospital would attract specialists to the area to perform procedures which Dr Tyson said ensure those with private health cover could access services in town.
"We would not be creating more work. It is work that is currently being done elsewhere and everybody would be better off," he said.
Despite the positive outlook for Grafton Hospital, there had been setbacks for general practitioner recruitment in Grafton.
The area had recently lost a classification enabling easier recruitment of overseas-trained GPs into the town.
Grafton Chamber executive member and manager of a local medical practice, Carol Pachos, said this could impact appointment availability.
"Unfortunately Grafton is now not classified as a Workforce Distribution Priority Area, meaning we are now no longer able to recruit overseas trained GPs to work here unless they have already completed their 10-year moratorium period." Ms Pachos said.
The region already struggled to attract GPs despite government incentives and Ms Pachos said the best results would be achieved when the community and government worked together.
"The challenges in attracting health professionals to regional areas are complex and there is not just one solution." she said.
"Recently, Clarence Valley Council's economic development team met with representatives from the health services sector to come together to work on strategies to attract skilled professionals to the area, including health professionals.
"Economic development, infrastructure growth and access to services will definitely assist when it comes to the challenge in attracting professionals to a region."
Like many regional towns across the country, the Clarence Valley has struggled to attract general practitioners and other health professionals, but there was cause for optimism.
The area is modernising and the lifestyle and natural beauty of the Clarence could be leveraged to attract doctors in the same way the owners of Yamba co-working hub Blanc Space, Mick and Hayley Talbot, were trying to attract other professionals.
The increase in the number of health professionals due to a hospital redevelopment or private hospital build could itself boost the attractiveness of the region, and offered more opportunities for collaboration.
Gone are the days when regional doctors were just one of a handful and the more health professionals meant more opportunities to collaborate or discuss complex cases.
The modernisation of community spaces via projects such as the riverside precinct and redevelopment of Jacaranda Park showed Clarence was forward thinking and ready to grow.
The new prison
Happening in the background to this was the construction of the country's biggest prison - to house 1700 inmates - which would bring with it a host of benefits for the health sector in the Clarence Valley.
"The jail is a big issue for the community. We are going to have to supply many more acute services for prisoners and although the jail will have significant primary care services there are things we are going to have to supply." Dr Tyson said.