Sydney Children’s Hospital Under Threat as Paediatric Cardiac Surgery ‘Funnelled’ to Westmead
Our beloved Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick has been in the media recently. Why? The hospital is under serious threat of being downgraded and the full range of medical services that you expect your children to have available may be transferred to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, over an hour’s drive away. Without public awareness and strong pressure on the decision makers, the hospital as you know it will cease to exist.
How did this crisis come about?
In 2011, the NSW government decided to unite the administrations of the two children’s hospitals to form a network, but unfortunately the balance of power was not equal. The crisis we face today has come about because of paediatric cardiac surgery.
The two children’s hospitals are the only places in the whole of NSW that offer this service (compared to at least 20 public or private hospital options for adult cardiac surgery). Both hospitals need it to provide comprehensive care, even for children without a cardiac issue. Some babies are born with cardiac defects but children of all ages can have accidental injuries, acquire serious chest infections, viral heart infections or breathing problems, develop tumours or suffer complications of chemotherapy and need emergency cardiac surgery.
For decades Randwick has had an excellent cardiac surgical unit with published outcomes comparable to other centres around the world, treating many of our local children as well as those from around the state. Since 2011, the Westmead-based cardiac doctors have been gradually funnelling referrals to Westmead and the administration has been supporting them.
Despite the network executive, the board and the Ministry of Health stating a commitment to a two-site model, there has been no investment in Randwick and at the same time an ever-increasing expansion of the services at Westmead.
Declining cardiac surgery numbers at Randwick have already affected some specialty services and losing it completely will be devastating for the whole hospital. This is not a turf war between doctors – Randwick is now fighting to exist as you know it and expect it to function.
Removing the ability to provide complete care for children in a city the size of Sydney with transport infrastructure already stretched is senseless. Imagine if it were your child who suffered while waiting to be transferred across town or in transit when they potentially could have been treated safely in Randwick. Consider the effect on your entire family if your child has an illness that requires travel back and forth to Westmead for a prolonged period.
The cost of running paediatric cardiac surgery in Randwick is not expensive as a lot of the infrastructure already exists. $3 million dollars a year to fund staffing and a cardiac catheter lab is paltry when you consider the NSW government is spending $729 million on the football stadium. The government is arguing that the population of Sydney is growing in the west but ignoring that Randwick provides healthcare to 40 per cent of the children in NSW, accepts 75 per cent of statewide retrievals and that the Royal Hospital for Women is next door with one of the busiest and most highly regarded neonatal intensive care units in Australia.
The doctors at Randwick have been escalating concerns for the last eight years as the situation has deteriorated, culminating in a vote of no confidence in the executive, the board and the network. 87 per cent of 149 senior doctors at Randwick voted in May to leave the network. Thus far the NSW Government has allowed the degradation of cardiac surgical services at Randwick to continue and there are grave fears that transferring all cardiac surgery to Westmead will be a huge mistake that will affect children and their families for decades.
What can locals do to help?
Don’t be complacent – it is our children’s lives at stake. Stay informed and tell your family and friends. Write to Brad Hazzard, our Minister for Health, and our Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to let them know that Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick needs to be an autonomous comprehensive tertiary hospital that includes cardiac surgery. At the very least, sign the petition at www.change.org/p/nsw-state-government-save-sydney-children-s-hospital-randwick.