Lismore MP rejects rehab relocation

Ballina MP Don Page said parochial squabbling over where a new $8 million rehabilitation facility was located could put the entire project in jeopardy.

The Ballina location has provoked criticism from doctors and Lismore MP Thomas George, who says the relocation will disadvantage the majority of users.

Its a regional facility, said Mr Page. We were pretty lucky to pick up that money and we dont want to lose it. I dont want to get into a slanging match with Thomas, but the decision has been made on sound grounds. To want to change it at the eleventh hour is extremely dangerous, in my opinion. There are plenty of marginal seats where the government could put (the money) six months before an election.

North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford said the 24-bed Ballina facility was not being funded until next year, but a commitment had been given in this years budget. While the government could re-visit the decision, he thought the chances were pretty remote.

He said there had been a strong case put forward for Ballina because there was currently no land to build on at Lismore Base Hospital and the government would not allow the spending of public money at the privately owned St Vincents Hospital (which houses the current rehab unit). Meanwhile, the coast was ageing and growing, with an expected 35 per cent increase over the next five to 10 years in the number of coast-dwellers older than 55.

If the people in Lismore were able to convince the NSW Government that it was such a bad idea to put it in Ballina then it might put the whole thing on hold, he said. They could re-look at it, but the chances are pretty slim.

Mr Crawford said the transitional care unit being built in Ballina was partly completed, and having the rehab unit located next door would be more beneficial than having them located separately.

Theres quite a bit of synergy between the two units, he said.

A new rehabilitation unit for Lismore is included in stage three of the Lismore Base Hospital re-development, however, there is no timeline and no money allocated at present. In the interim, Mr Crawford said it looked likely that a new private hospital would be built in Lismore, and if so, Area Health could look at leasing rehabilitation beds from it.

However, Lismore MP Thomas George said as far as he was concerned the issue was not over yet and he would be having meetings this week to determine what action to take.

I want an iron-clad guaranteed about what beds will be available in Lismore if they proceed with Ballina, he said. And that hasnt been forthcoming.

Mr George said 75 per cent of people accessing rehabilitation services in the last 12 months came from the Lismore area.

By putting it in Ballina we will be taking away benefit to the region and only benefiting a few, he said.

Mr Crawford said it was unfortunate there would be a time lag before new Lismore services were up and running.

Ultimately it (the debate) is not going to speed up anything at Lismore, but there is the potential to slow down whats going on in Ballina, and that would be a tragedy.

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