Locals in Wilcannia aired concerns this week as rumours flew about that the western New South Wales township’s hospital did not have a ventilator to cope with a COVID-19 emergency case.

But the head of the Far West Local Health District has confirmed it is not the case, and there is a ventilator in Wilcannia Hospital.

“I can state categorically that there is a ventilator in Wilcannia,” said chief executive Umit Agis.

Fortunately, for the time being “none of the mob right now are needing a ventilator”, according to local Barkindji woman Monica Kerwin.

There have been 75 covid cases detected in Wilcannia since August 17. (

ABC Broken Hill: Bill Ormonde


More than 10 per cent of Wilcannia’s population currently has COVID-19.

If someone does sufficiently fall ill in Wilcannia, the ventilator would not be able to solely support them, and the patient will need to be transported out of town.

According to Mr Agis “a ventilator is a very specific machine, we don’t normally have the full ventilators”.

“We have what we call a bipap, which allows a patient to breathe much more comfortably,” he said.

“Ventilators are far more intrusive, where the machine does the work rather than the person.”

Ventilator ‘not really appropriate’

This was confirmed by the new Federal Minister for Regional Health David Gillespie, who worked as a doctor for 33 years including stints in ICUs in Sydney, Canada, and the UK.

“To have people ventilated in a hospital would only be as an emergency, temporary, stabilising role, and then they would be evacuated out to a bigger centre,” Dr Gillespie said.

“It’s something that is not really appropriate for a small place like Wilcannia.”

Wilcannia drone shot
According to the Federal Regional Health Minister, ventilators are usually reserved for larger hospital like Dubbo or Wagga. (

ABC News: Nathan Morris


Dr Gillespie said “from a federal government health perspective, the patients will be managed in Wilcannia until they require greater management and transferred a larger regional hospital like Dubbo or Wagga, or a metropolitan hospital like Sydney or Adelaide”.

“In the bigger hospitals they’ve got bigger skills and bigger support mechanisms and more staff, because once you’re on a ventilator you need someone in the room watching everything 24 hours, round the clock, and you couldn’t do that in Wilcannia.”


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