Work will begin this year on a $48 million upgrade of facilities at The Tweed Hospital, on the NSW far-north coast, following a campaign by APN regional newspaper Tweed Daily News.
The funding was announced prior to the NSW state election last year, in the wake of more than 30 stories published by the newspaper over a three-month period. The works include an upgrade of the emergency department, enhancement of wards and specialist units, and a new multi-storey car park at the hospital.
The Tweed Heads hospital had been beset with problems. At one stage last year, its children’s ward had nine babies in the special care nursery, where there was only space for six. The internet availability was so poor, senior doctors told the Tweed Daily News that they were compelled to provide their own WiFi to access reference information during operations.
There also were unacceptable wait times for cancer treatments. Because of limited accommodation for chemotherapy treatment, doctors had to re-organise appointments to prioritise patients with more aggressive cancers. Some cancer patients waited three months for treatment.
Tweed Daily News journalist Alina Rylko, who was responsible for writing most of the stories during the campaign, said the paper’s role was crucial.
The NSW government had signed off on a $211 million plan in December 2013, according to Ms Rylko, but nothing ensued.
“There aren’t many organisations like ours with the power to do something about this. It’s why we exist,” she said.
“The thing we recognised was that the medium with the greatest sense of ownership by the community is the newspaper.” – Former chairman of the Tweed Hospital medical staff council Dr Ian McPhee.
Former chairman of the Tweed Hospital medical staff council Dr Ian McPhee considered several different media outlets before deciding to contact a regional paper.
“The thing we recognised was that the medium with the greatest sense of ownership by the community is the newspaper,” he said.
“This is a fantastic example of how important a regional press is, and how much they can contribute to the wellbeing of a community.”
Dr McPhee worked closely with Ms Rylko and editor-in-chief Sue Gardiner to formulate a campaign for the hospital.
“It was a bit like a military operation. We had a plan, we had the troops to run that, and it was strategically set out over a period of months,” he said.
The paper encouraged readers to do three things – write to NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Tweed Heads MP Geoff Provest; share the campaign’s ‘Heal Our Hospital’ logo on social media; and share their stories and experience with the hospital.
Social media was used to draw attention to the campaign. A Twitter hashtag #healourhospital was created, and it received more than 15,000 online views.
— RACSurgeons (@RACSurgeons) February 11, 2015
— Ron Goodman (@RonGoodmanALP) March 7, 2015
— Justine Elliot (@JElliotMP) February 7, 2015
However, the campaign was not without its challenges. “Just the nature of some of the stories was tough,” Ms Rylko said. “Asking an oncologist about how he has to choose which one of his patients gets chemo, and which doesn’t, was a challenge.
“By acknowledging this, some patients would know that their prognosis or life span was affected as a result. These professionals really had to go out on a limb.”
Mr Provest is pleased with the campaign results. “The Daily News ran a very effective campaign,” he said. “It’s not over yet; it’s got a life of its own now. I applaud them for their efforts.”
The campaign still has a long way to go, with the goal of reaching $181 million. “The plan is to cover every milestone in the development, while still highlighting the need for further development,” Ms Rylko said.
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