Murrumbidgee Local Health District chief executive Jill Ludford's letter to the Area News editor

Letter to the editor, from the MLHD

LETTER: MLHD's Jill Ludford 'categorically denies' a $20 million Wagga funding deficit, but says commercial-in-confidence restricts figures from being released.

LETTER: MLHD's Jill Ludford 'categorically denies' a $20 million Wagga funding deficit, but says commercial-in-confidence restricts figures from being released.

I write to categorically deny claims of a $20 million funding deficit at Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital (WWRRH). VVVVRRH is in a strong financial position and to suggest differently does a disservice to your readers. In fact, the hospital has received around $10 million extra funding to cover increased activity since the hospital opened in January 2016. 

As The Area News has correctly reported, I spoke with reporter Oliver Jacques and Editor Ben Jones for an hour on Wednesday 30 August. I answered all questions put to me and I am providing those answers separately to this letter. In the interests of correcting the public record, I ask that The Area News print those detailed answers. 

The angiography theatres and equipment at VVVVRRH are world class. They are not lying unused. Rather, WWRRH commenced a staged introduction of interventional radiology services in July 2017, which will see a full range of angiography services expected to commence at the hospital from next month. 

In the interim the existing angiography services continue to be provided across the road by a private provider, as has been the case for many years. 

Local media were invited to attend a procedure in the angiography suite on Thursday 31 August. Unfortunately The Area News declined our invitation. 

I want to use this opportunity to reassure the community that they have access to a first class facility in WWRRH and a dedicated health workforce committed to providing them with the best of care. 

May I also take this opportunity to urge the community to get involved with our plans for the future of Griffith Base Hospital. Please contact us at mlhd-feedback@.health.nsw.qov.au or visit our MLHD Facebook page. 

Jill Ludford Chief Executive, MLHD.

Thanks for your letter Jill.

As we mentioned during our phone conference, we at The Area News are appreciative of the detailed answers you provided (printed in full online), and I’m sure the Riverina and Griffith communities are glad to be getting more open dialogue from the MLHD.

Whether your responses will satisfy our readers will be determined in the coming weeks and months as we continue following up and directing our readers’ questions at the MLHD.

But direct contact between the media and the MLHD is, in our opinion, a new and welcome positive step towards providing better clarity surrounding MIA and Riverina health matters.

As for your invitation to come to Wagga last week, I believe The Area News, and our Wagga-based sister paper The Daily Advertiser, made the right decision by allocating our resources elsewhere.

Based on the opportunity offered to us, and the subsequent reports from other media outlets, we feel there was very little on offer regarding new information and answers our readers are seeking.

We are appreciative of the offer though, and look forward to working with you again offering clarity on health issues to the region’s residents.

Ben Jones, Area News editor.

MLHD response – Q&A

Please attribute to the Murrumbidgee Local Health District Chief Executive Jill Ludford:

1. Does the new Wagga Hospital have world class angiography theatres and equipment built at a cost of $10 million?

Yes we do have world-class angiography theatres and equipment at Wagga. The total cost is not $10 million for the Angiography suite alone as this figure includes the costs relating to x-ray, medical imaging, operating and other specialised equipment including an MRI machine.

2. Are they lying unused for the purpose they were built for the last 19 months?

WWRRH commenced a staged introduction of interventional radiology services, including new angiography suites in July 2017. A radiographer was appointed in the lead-up to the commencement of the new service. A Nurse Unit Manager was appointed in July 2017. Specialist training of the staff is required and experienced clinicians have been appointed to oversee the service implementation. A full range of angiography services will be available from October 2017. While this service is being implemented, the existing angiography services have continued as they have been provided over many years in the neighbouring private provider. Local media were also invited to attend a procedure in the angiography suite on Thursday 31 August. Unfortunately the Area News declined our invitation.

3. Is the equipment out of company warranty?

All the equipment in the WWRRH is covered by warranty and these have been transitioned to annual agreements. If there is a breakdown, there is an agreement which covers this. The new equipment has been tested prior to its use in July 2017. All equipment used for patient care is covered by an annual maintenance service agreement. Before any new equipment is used, Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) follows a commissioning process to ensure that it is safe and working in accordance with manufacturing standards. All equipment has been serviced as per the service maintenance agreement with the manufacturer.

4. Is an annual service and maintenance fee being paid after the company warranty has expired, even when the machines have never been used? How much is this fee?

The service fee is in the range of $40,000 to $50,000 per annum.

5. How do you know that the machines work correctly, if they have not been used at all?

They have received regular daily testing and have been used from July 2017.

6. Why have the machines not been used for the past 19 months?

The first steps were to introduce or transition to the new radiology information system in December 2016. We went through a tender process and that’s why it took so long. WWRRH commenced a staged introduction of new interventional radiology services, including new angiography services, in July 2017. A full range of angiography services will be available from October 2017. Due to the complexity of these services and the requirements for staff training, a staged implementation plan has ensured models of care, procedures, policies and staff competencies are in place.

7. How many patients were sent to a private facility for tests and procedures which could be done using your own facilities since the new hospital opened?

There has been an existing long term arrangement with a neighbouring private facility which has provided state-of-the-art facilities and excellence in quality care.

8. How much was the bill in the last 19 months for sending these patients across to the private sector?

This arrangement is commercial in confidence contractual information. What we can say is that this been within the funding of the hospital over a long period of time.

9. Is this why small rural facilities are being downgraded and shut to cover this wastage?

No facilities are being downgraded.

10. How many staff have been recruited for these facilities which lie unused? What have they been doing? How do they fill their day?

One staff member has been recruited to get the service started, test the equipment, undertake training and work through the new processes. We have recruited a radiographer and in July 2017 an experienced and exceptional Nurse Unit Manager has started. These specialised staff are highly skilled and we are fortunate to have such high calibre staff. The staff currently undertake procedures in the suite.

11. When were these staff recruited?

Recruitment is still ongoing with one staff member recruited in January.

12. What is the annual salary of these staff?

Staff salaries are in accordance with the NSW Health Awards. Contracted Visiting Medical Officers are paid in accordance with NSW Health policy. These costs are part of the hospital’s annual funding.