THE new $57 million Gunnedah Hospital will have the capacity to host renal dialysis and chemotherapy services, but there is no guarantee there will be an adequate amount of staff to run them.
Members of the Gunnedah community had a chance to air their concerns and queries about Hunter New England Health's (HNEH) Clinical Services Plan, during a meeting at the Smithurst Theatre on Wednesday afternoon.
A number of representatives from local health and wellbeing organisations attended the event and grilled HNEH chief executive Michael DiRienzo on when and what services would be available.
The previously touted timeline of construction starting in 2023 and being completed by 2025 was played down by Mr DiRienzo, who said the intention would be to have it operational sooner.
It will likely take between three to six months before more details on the timeline or provided services are presented, which will coincide with the next phase of planning.
Gunnedah's lack of ability to attract and retain trained medical staff was an issue which plagued the meeting, and one HNEH officials admitted they couldn't quickly fix.
People had a stark realisation of how bad the issue was when executive director of rural and regional health services Susan Heyman said "I can't find GPs more than anyone else in the room can".
"What we can do is work together and keep presenting a really positive image of Gunnedah and the services available in the town we live in," she said.
"Because what I know is if you're a GP and you're looking at moving to a particular town and you Google it and it all comes up negative, then that's not a good start."
The problem is not exclusive to Gunnedah, however, according to Mr DiRienzo who said the increasing amount of locums - who travel to fill in for local practitioners and have less responsibility - was also causing issues on a larger scale.
Some locums in the HNEH district are earning as much as $3500 per shift, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince budding doctors to take on roles in a permanent position.
In terms of the new hospital, the officials were able to make a few commitments, including that no services run by the current Gunnedah Hospital would be lost in the changeover.
Maternity wards will remain a key component of the facility so long as there are enough midwives, but only for those undergoing low-risk pregnancies.
Despite staff numbers being an issue, local dietician Rachel Freeman said there were several people in her field in Gunnedah and they were not all able to get work at the current hospital.
She questioned whether it would be possible for the new facility to be built with that in mind, so more roles could be created for them.
"It's about if we have the demand for that extra resource, and if the demand is there then we should put it in place," said Mr DiRienzo.
More services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will also be part of a new and improved 'out-patient' program.
HNEH officials have committed to continuing community consultation once the next stage of planning begins.
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