A large group of doctors, nurses, paramedics and hospital staff gathered in their lunch break on Thursday to protest the planned slashing of the South East Regional Hospital's workforce.
The rally, organised by the Health Services Union, was in response to a report that recommended 34.67 full-time equivalent positions be cut from the facility as a cost-saving measure at the over-budget South East Regional Hospital.
The Bega District News broke the story last week, after a leaked email revealed a plan by healthcare consultancy firm Studer Group to cut 34.67 full-time roles at the hospital during the next financial year
Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes described proposed cuts to health jobs during an ongoing pandemic as "lunacy".
"The Studer Group running this review has a track record of taking hospitals into private hands. We sincerely hope this is not the beginning of a privatisation push," Mr Hayes said.
"Adding another 34 people to the dole queue is not what the people of Bega need right now. Losing 34 healthcare workers from the Southern NSW Health District would have significant impact on services at the best of times. To propose this in the middle of a pandemic is lunacy.
"You can't cut your way to better health services. These knee-jerk decisions are being touted when we need our hospital workers the most."
We're supposed to be stimulating the economy, not ripping the guts out of it.HSU organiser Mark Jay
The Southern NSW Local Health District said it is looking into cutting costs by increasing permanent recruitment to reduce its reliance on casual and agency staff, and is continuing "full and open discussions" with its workforce around any planned changes.
Chris Branson from the Health Services Union's Ambulance Division said frontline nurses would likely be forced to take on more work if administration jobs are cut.
"While the bushfires raged this place was considered one of the safest places to be in the shire - and it is made safe by the people who work here," he said.
"We're not making a distinction here between frontline staff and admin. In any case who has to do the work if admin gets cut? The frontline nurses do," he said.
"Every job is important - the jobs in here [SERH] are equivalent to my drivers. Imagine cutting 35 paramedics out of the shire. It's unimaginable."
HSU organiser for the local health district, Mark Jay, said the Studer report was not an accurate reading of the current situation and that job cuts could cost lives.
"It's not quite flu season, we haven't had COVID down here - of course the staff aren't as busy as they would normally be," he said.
"We're supposed to be stimulating the economy, not ripping the guts out of it," he said.
"This not only affects the staff, but the whole community.
"If 35 staff were cut this place would need a ventilator and there's not one big enough in the world that would revive it. Lives would be lost."
Labor's candidate for the Eden-Monaro by-election, Kristy McBain, was also at the protest, and, while acknowledging it was predominantly a state issue, said more money should be invested in the health sector.
Mr Jay said "all the powers that be" were invited to attend the rally, but "no-one else was willing to front up".