Where is the health boss?



AS Lismore Base Hospital's crisis continues mayor Merv King has joined the chorus of medical and community voices asking 'where is the Health Minister?'

Yesterday he posted a letter from Lismore City Council to Health Minister John Hatzistergos, asking him to stop the threatened exodus of specialists and GPs from the Northern Rivers. Some specialists have set a Friday deadline before stopping all but life-threatening surgery over the crisis.

Last night the executive of the LBH Medical Staff Council and some specialists were meeting to discuss their next move.

It is already too late to prevent the departure of urologist Dr David Sillar.

Dr Sillar is about to sign a contract with the Gold Coast's John Flynn Hospital.

He has taken rooms at Tweed Heads, given his Lismore staff notice and put his Lennox Head home up for auction.

Staff council secretary Dr William James said the North Coast Area Health Service chief executive, Chris Craw- ford, had to accept some responsibility for the loss of Dr Sillar.

"Mr Crawford has failed to resolve the ongoing dispute with surgeons over access to operating time which, for Dr Sillar and other specialists, has been the main issue of concern for a number of years," he said.

"The current anaesthetists' dispute has had very little bearing on Dr Sillar's decision to leave.

"There are much bigger issues."

Yesterday Mr Crawford pledged to end the immediate crisis by flying in locum anaesthetists from all over Australia.

He says elective surgery will restart on Monday.

However specialists say their safety concerns remain over using locums.

Dr James said there was no certainty specialists would be operating again on Monday.

He said even though Mr Crawford had been able to get locum anaesthetists from interstate, this was at best a 'stopgap measure which can only be tolerated for a short while'.

Yesterday Mr Hatzistergos, who has taken over the controversial health portfolio from new Premier Morris Iemma, said he had no plans to directly intervene in the crisis.

His media adviser, Luke Mellare, said the Minister had asked for a detailed briefing and the situation was a high priority for him.

He is closely monitoring the dispute and has asked the NCAHS to expedite their efforts to reach a solution.

But Dr James said this was not enough and that Premier Iemma also had to take some responsibility for the crisis.

"He was Minister while the Health Budget was allowed to drop $30 million below what we are entitled to," he said.

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