Councillor Neil Westcott angry over Parkes maternity unit closure

RALLY: A protest rally to save the Parkes maternity unit following its two-month closure was held outside the Parkes Hospital on June 21.
RALLY: A protest rally to save the Parkes maternity unit following its two-month closure was held outside the Parkes Hospital on June 21.

Parkes councillor Neil Westcott said the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) and the NSW Health Minister have "got it wrong" if they believe Parkes will accept its maternity unit closure and the downgrading of its services.

"If they think we as a council are just going to roll over and go away, they've got us wrong, they've got this town wrong," he said.

Parkes Mayor Ken Keith OAM tabled his monthly report at Parkes Shire Council's ordinary meeting on June 25.

The report included details of WNSWLHD's move last month to temporarily close Parkes Hospital's maternity unit due to the lack of available obstetricians, sending pregnant mums to Forbes instead, and the mayor's alarm and frustration over the decision.

He said the closure remains a serious concern and that he has made a number of representations regarding the matter at state and federal levels.

The report opened the floor to Cr Keith's fellow councillors, who shared his anger and frustration.

SUPPORT: Parkes Mayor Ken Keith OAM attended and spoke at the Parkes maternity unit protest rally, held outside the Parkes Hospital on June 21.

SUPPORT: Parkes Mayor Ken Keith OAM attended and spoke at the Parkes maternity unit protest rally, held outside the Parkes Hospital on June 21.

Cr Keith said at the meeting that both towns had new multi-million dollar hospitals.

"We need to ask them, why have you mismanaged these hospitals," he said.

Cr Westcott said the crisis should have been foreseen.

"Here we are about to experience a major change within our town and we have the downgrading of something so essential," he said.

"We're already losing midwives because they're basically unemployed.

"We need to make it very clear this isn't a line to be crossed."

Cr Westcott and Cr Alan Ward also spoke about Health Minister Brad Hazzard's behaviour in Question Time during the NSW Parliament June 20 sitting, where Mr Hazzard chose to mock Orange MP Phil Donato and his party instead of answering a question about the Parkes maternity unit.

They described the scene as embarrassing.

"This (the maternity unit crisis) is a line in the sand, not just for Parkes and Forbes, but for regional NSW," the mayor said.

"They should have the same opportunities that are available in cities."

Deputy Mayor Barbara Newton said the difficulty in attracting doctors to country areas was nothing new.

"We know how hard it is to attract doctors to rural and regional towns but this is a whole different argument," she said.

"They should be working much harder."

Cr Keith met with Mr Hazzard in a teleconference during the same council meeting and upon his return, said council's next step was to arrange a meeting between WNSWLHD chief executive Scott McLachlan and both councils to discuss options going forward.