Faces of Tamworth: palliative care campaigner Mitch Williams

Mitch Williams

Mitch Williams

Mitch Williams went through the heartbreaking affair of losing his mother to cancer. It was undoubtedly a personally life-changing experience for the Tamworth man, but it also set him a long and ultimately fruitful path. He wanted make sure no one else in the region with a terminal diagnosis had to suffer needlessly and fought tirelessly to boost palliative care specialist number for New England.

LOCAL advocates say Tamworth has made a huge breakthrough in the push for better palliative care services, with Hunter New England Heath committing to expand the current workforce.

But it’s just the first step on a long road to match palliation figures in other NSW regional cities, as campaigners Mitch Williams and Lucy Haslam continue the fight for Tamworth.

The pair met with Hunter New England Health (HNEH) executives, where the local health district committed to hiring an additional clinical nurse specialist in the region.

This will double Tamworth’s current palliation workforce, with one nurse currently serving the city and other parts of the region.

“Hunter New England have said yes, they are committed to providing a better service for the New England region, which is excellent,” Mr Williams said.

“They need to work on modelling around what is the best service delivery on that.”

Mr Williams and Mrs Haslam agreed it was a hugely positive outcome for Tamworth but emphasised how far there was to go to bring the region up to scratch.

“It was a positive meeting and had a positive outcome, but it is just the start,” Mr Williams said.

“If you look at Tamworth, it is still the worst in the state when it comes to palliative care.”

According to figures from Push for Palliative – a campaign driven by retired specialist Yvonne McMaster – Tamworth has only one funded palliation nurse compared to three in Bathurst and 4.6 in Orange.

“We are saying that more needs to be done,” Mr Williams said.

“We’re committed to the cause and we’re not stopping until Tamworth is properly looked after.

“If we could have four to five nurses doing this region, plus a full-time specialist physician, I think the New England part of the cluster would be best served.”

Mr Williams said the campaign would not rest until Tamworth had a service that rivalled other areas of NSW.

“We’re quite positive from that meeting they will endeavour to get a best practice for Tamworth,” he said. HNEH director of regional and rural health services, Susan Heyman, said the meeting was “positive and productive”.

“Pleasingly, at this meeting we were able to confirm that the Tamworth/Nundle Community Health Service has recently received a further three years of funding from the NSW Health Palliative Care Flexible Funding Pool,” Ms Heyman said.

“As part of this funding, an additional full time community Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist will be recruited to the Tamworth community nursing team in January 2017. 

“HNEH has committed to ensuring this is an ongoing permanent position for the region, regardless of whether NSW Health funding is extended.”

Ms Heyman said HNEH would continue to work with the local advocates to improve services.

“We will continue to work with patients, their families, advocates and other health care providers, including general practitioners and residential aged care facilities, to integrate and extend palliative care services to meet the needs of our patients and community,” Ms Heyman said.