Surgeon's warning: No beds at the inn

By BELINDA SCOTT

DOCTOR Bill Ross was not a happy surgeon when he found he could not perform a planned breast cancer operation on his patient.

Even though he finally managed to perform the operation late in the day, he said it was still an unsatisfactory situation.

"It is a disaster up at the hospital and has been for a couple of weeks," he said.

"There are not enough beds to meet the demand from the emergency department so the day surgery area is being used as an overflow.

"I suppose you could say there were no beds at the inn."

"Yesterday (Tuesday) all the beds were full and there was not even a spare trolley at the hospital," he said.

"The hospital has clearly reached its capacity."

He said while it was a short-term problem, probably brought about by the normal winter influenza peak lingering into spring in an ageing population, it was definitely a situation which would recur.

Dr Ross said while there were areas of the hospital that could be expanded, a temporary solution was to cancel all non-urgent elective surgery to provide catch-up time.

"The region is growing and the population is outgrowing the hospital," he said.

It is understood a meeting of health executives will be held early next week to look at solutions to the problem Dr Ross' remarks are likely to come as a shock to many Coffs Coast residents, who view the hospital, which was opened in 2001, as a new addition to the city.

Even a North Coast Area Health Service website refers to the $80.6 million hospital as 'just completed'.

Last week NSW Nationals' leader Andrew Stoner complained that elective surgery waiting lists had more than doubled during 12 years of State Labor government.

But the CEO of the North Coast Area Health Service, Chris Crawford, said the average waiting times for elective surgery had been reduced from six months in 2004/05 to 3.9 months in 2006/07 and at the end of June 2007 only 16 people on the whole North Coast were waiting for more than 12 months for non-urgent surgery.

Mr Crawford said this year's budget had increased by $53.9 million and 27,042 planned procedures and 11,873 emergency operations had been performed.



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