Residents in the small border town of Mungindi have voiced their anger at Queensland Health’s decision to restrict services at the local hospital during the escalating COVID-19 pandemic.
- Healthcare services have been wound back at the Mungindi Hospital
- The community has labelled the decision “cruel and unnecessary”
- MP David Littleproud has written to state leaders calling for a border bubble arrangement
Mungindi, about 550 kilometres south-west of Brisbane, straddles the Queensland-New South Wales border and has effectively been cut in half by new border restrictions at the state line.
The Mungindi Hospital, located on the Queensland side of the border, has been reduced to a skeleton crew, with many of its NSW-based health professionals told to stay at home.
It is a decision Moree Plains Shire Council Mayor Katrina Humphries has described as “ridiculous”.
“You cannot deny people in rural areas, where there is a lack of medical care to start with, access to their local hospital and doctors,” she said.
Federal members Mark Coulton and David Littleproud have called on the NSW and Queensland governments to recognise the town’s unique situation and create a “border bubble”.
Healthcare services cut
The hospital will continue to operate an emergency department and vaccination clinic, but residential aged care and inpatient services have been moved out of town.
“Mungindi’s NSW-based staff members will provide services to the community on the NSW side of Mungindi, including continued community nursing and assistance with COVID-19 testing and vaccination,” a Queensland Health spokesperson said.
“Careful consideration was given to ensuring the safety and ongoing protection of the community while maintaining the provision of essential public health services at the Mungindi Multi-Purpose Health Services.”
But the decision has sparked anger among locals south of the border, who now need to travel 150 kilometres to Moree to access those services.
Mungindi resident Lisa Orchin said the situation was “100 per cent unacceptable”.
“As far as our elderly population [are concerned], they have scripts that are needed and they’re used to being able to go to their doctor when they need,” she said.
‘Cruel and unnecessary’
Ms Orchin said the closure of residential aged care services was most heartbreaking for local families.
“I don’t think you can put into words the emotions that family members have had at that hospital as they’re saying goodbye over the weekend to husbands that are coming to the end of their life, to grandfathers, to family members that have never left Mungindi that have been sent beyond,” she said.
Queensland Health said five aged care residents had been transferred to other facilities, including Roma, St George and Collarenebri, following consultation with the residents and their families.
Ms Humphries said the situation was untenable.
“This is cruel and unnecessary. We have no COVID,” she said.
No COVID-19 cases have been detected in the border shire of Moree Plains so far, but cases have been found in the neighbouring shire of Walgett and further west in the Central Darling Shire.
Calls for ‘ring of steel’ to be extended
Mr Littleproud, the federal Member for Maranoa, has written to both the Queensland and NSW governments, calling for a solution to the issue.
“[We’re] calling on the Premiers to seek an extension of the border from Queensland down around Mungindi to effectively make a bubble that would then bring the Mungindi community within the Queensland remit,” he said.
Mr Littleproud proposed testing the 600 residents on the NSW side of the border before extending “the ring of steel” around the town.
Ms Orchin said the community was angry and wanted the town reunited immediately.
“They (residents) are completely confused because we’ve never had this experience before,” she said.
“Even when the pandemic began last year, a border zone was established and we could travel back and forth to the hospital.
“None of us can actually believe this is happening.”
Currently, residents on the NSW side of Mungindi can only cross into Queensland for essential work or permitted medical and essential services that cannot reasonably be obtained in NSW.
Queensland Health said the situation would continue to be monitored, and the resumption of usual services at the hospital would resume as soon as health directions permitted.
Posted , updated