Bega MP Dr Michael Holland has confirmed the Batemans Bay Hospital will close once the Eurobodalla Regional Hospital is built. He says the closure has been planned "from the first day".
Speaking to Australian Community Media/Bay Post on December 7, the former obstetrician and gynaecologist said keeping the Batemans Bay Hospital open would threaten the reality of a Level 4 hospital opening in the Eurobodalla.
"By keeping [the hospitals] divided, we'll continue having a Level 2 hospital," he said.
The Batemans Bay Hospital offers Level 2 services, while the Moruya Hospital offers Level 3 services. The Moruya Hospital will also close once the Eurobodalla Regional Hospital opens in 2025.
Dr Holland said community members and the DON'T close Batemans Bay Emergency Department committee were creating pressure to keep the hospital open.
"This is becoming an unfortunately divisive situation in our community, similar to what happened in 2004 when the maternity unit had to close and had to establish services at Moruya."
Since the November 27 public forum on the closure of the Batemans Bay emergency department, community concern has been growing and more than 3000 petitions have been collected to keep the service open, according to committee organiser Peter Ryan.
At the forum, Mr Ryan asked the 350-person crowd if they knew the Batemans Bay Hospital would close before they saw the public forum notice. Less than half of the crowd raised their hands.
Mr Ryan believes there is a much higher percentage of Batemans Bay residents who did not know of the closure.
"I think 98 per cent of people are gobsmacked and surprised...they had no idea it was closing as a result of the [new] hospital," he said.
"We made that strong from the start, at no stage were the words used that the Batemans Bay emergency department would close."
Mr Holland said he intends to attend the next public forum on the hospital closure.
When asked if the closure had been communicated to the public, Dr Holland said it had been "said all along".
"I've said this every single time...I don't know why people don't understand, both hospitals will be closed and a new hospital will be opened.
"I have been consistent with everything that has been said about this development from before I was in politics."
In October 2018, an online petition spearheaded by Dr Holland was submitted to the NSW Legislative Assembly and the former Bega MP Andrew Constance.
It requested improvements to multiple healthcare services in the shire and a commitment to fund, plan and build a "one" new regional hospital in the Eurobodalla.
Dr Holland said planning for the new hospital began with the previous government and he drove to get more funding and increase the hospital's services to Level 4.
"Mr Ryan and Dr [Andrew] Gibson want us to stop working and choose a site in north Moruya which is unrealistic."
Mr Ryan said that without better roads between Moruya and Batemans Bay or a Moruya bypass, people may die in ambulances on the way to the new hospital.
"Mr Ryan is making an argument that people will die. People are dying already because they're staying too long at one hospital."
"We're sending out 44 per cent of our population [to other hospitals] because we can't treat them. I'm very concerned that any pressure to keep the Batemans Bay Hospital open is a threat to a single new Level 4 hospital for the whole Eurobodalla."
When asked if more ambulances and paramedics will service the Batemans Bay area once the hospital closes, Dr Holland said the NSW Ambulance service would conduct surveys and increase services according to demand.
"It is obvious there will be a need for more ambulance services when the Batemans Bay emergency department closes."
He said having one single hospital will free up more paramedics who are regularly transporting patients from the Eurobodalla to Canberra or Bega.
What's next for health in Batemans Bay?
Dr Holland has promised the Batemans Bay Hospital will not close before the Eurobodalla Regional Hospital opens.
He said both Moruya and Batemans Bay hospital sites will be disposed of as NSW assets.
"I would personally not like to see [them] disposed, we're in great need of residential aged care, social and affordable housing. My grand plan was that [both] would close and turn into housing."
On December 5, Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips and Dr Holland visited the new Medicare Urgent Care Clinic (UCC) within the Batemans Bay Hospital.
He said the UCC is the "first step" to providing clinical services in the Bay. He said the urgent care model is a "blank slate" and has the potential to expand into imaging services, dentistry and pharmacy.
"I'm not saying this will happen but it has the potential for doing that."
Once the hospital closes, a $20 million Community Health facility will open in its place. Dr Holland said the facility was politically determined because "people in Batemans Bay would be dissatisfied" with the closure.
The facility will include Allied health, Aboriginal health, women's health, sexual health and child, youth and family services.
Dr Holland said he feels "strongly" about a single hospital in the region and he is working closely with the community, including the DON'T close Batemans Bay Emergency Department committee.
"No-one has had greater influence [on this decision] regardless of whether they lived in Batemans Bay or Moruya.
"We're looking at a complimentary system...it's not one versus the other."