Geoff Helisma | Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has launched a campaign that ultimately aims to secure $263.8million to redevelop Grafton Base Hospital (GBH). For the campaign to succeed it will require positive action from the wider community, namely by signing a petition that advocates planning for the future, as a result of the predicted “rapid growth of our region” and the health services that will be needed at GBH to service the growth. Mr Gulaptis was joined by the mayor, Jim Simmons, Northern NSW Local Health District Board member and chair of the Grafton Base Hospital Medical Staff Council, Dr Allan Tyson, director of ICU, Dr Andrew White, and a range of other community and business leaders at the campaign launch, held at GBH on Friday October 19. “The redevelopment of Grafton Base Hospital is a high priority for me, but having the united support of the local community is a key ingredient in building a strong case,” Mr Gulaptis said. Significantly, the Northern NSW Local Health District now rates the hospital’s redevelopment as its top priority. Mr Gulaptis said the hospital “has reached its use-by-date and is close to capacity”. He said the currently under construction New Grafton Correctional Centre, which will house 1,700 inmates and reputedly generate 600 permanent jobs once operational in 2020, “will place further stress on health services”. Mr Gulaptis told the Independent that he had decided to mount a community-based campaign, incorporating the petition, because it would be tangible “proof” that it is of the “highest priority” for the valley’s communities. “What I want is for there to be no doubt that the community wants this as its number one priority, no matter who is in government, no matter the outcome of the [March 2019] election,” he said. “I would love for this to be an election commitment, but what is just as important, even after the election, is that it is seen by government as a high priority for the Clarence Valley. “Having the backing of the local community will arm me with more political muscle and definitely add weight to the lobbying I have already undertaken with the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health to secure this funding.” Mr Gulaptis also pointed out that “over the past seven-and-a-half years, 77 hospitals have been built or upgraded”. “It’s time that we are given the same focus and attention, in terms of health infrastructure,” he said. While there have been significant upgrades and pledges of funding for further upgrades over recent years at GBH, the campaign has been a long one – in December of 2006, under the leadership of then mayor Ian Tiley, Clarence Valley Council facilitated a public health rally – ‘Stop the Bleeding’ – at the Grafton Racecourse. After the Coalition came to power in NSW in 2011, it set about redesigning the way health was administered in NSW, as required by the then Labor federal government’s National Health Reform Agreement, which compelled the establishment of local hospital networks to “improve local accountability and responsiveness to the needs of communities”. Doctor Tyson said this was a key change in governance that has eventually resulted in the redevelopment of GBH rising to the top of the Northern NSW Local Health District’s priority list. He said more recent changes in the governance model have further improved the ability of board members “to put cases forward”. “People from various regions all participate in governance; the decision making process is spread across the representatives and, as a result, local health decisions are more attuned to what communities need,” he said. “The Clarence Valley community deserves the same types of health infrastructure, as has been constructed elsewhere in NSW, so as to deliver health services effectively and efficiently, rather than struggling with outdated, sometimes 19th century buildings. “The local health district recognises this, so let’s encourage government to deliver.” Planning for the upgrade is set out in the Clarence Valley (Grafton) Health Services Plan 2016-26 and Grafton Base Hospital Master Plan 2016 – the petition specifically asks the NSW Legislative Assembly to fund the redevelopment. Mr Gulaptis said the petition would be distributed over coming weeks at local businesses and at community stands in key public areas; copies are also available from Mr Gulaptis’ office.