WHEN Lee Brien arrived to visit her husband in Coffs Harbour Base Hospital's medical ward on Tuesday afternoon and found him gone, she did not know what to think.

"My husband's disappeared, I think he's been kidnapped," she told hospital staff after medical ward desk staff said they did not know where Dr Bob Brien was.

Dr Brien had been moved to Bellingen Hospital but nobody had told his family.

Mrs Brien, who has high blood pressure and a bad heart herself, was still upset yesterday and still inclined to 'strong words'.

"If they had rung up and said they needed the bed, I'd have had to agree," said Mrs Brien, a retired nurse.

"The girl in the ward said it was nothing to do with her and had been organised by the morning staff, but she came on duty at 2pm and he was not transferred until 4pm.

"The doctor that was looking after Bob in rehab is on holidays until January 15, so who gave permission?

"They said it was in the nursing notes they had rung and no one was home.

"They didn't ring and then later they lied and said they did.

"Bob's a doctor and it's ironic he's fallen foul of the health system he did so much work with."

Coffs Harbour Health Campus general manager, Margaret Bennett, said yesterday the nursing notes showed a nurse had tried, but failed, to contact Mrs Brien on Monday when a bed at Bellingen became available, but did not try again after Bellingen Hospital advised that the bed was no longer available.

She said when a bed at Bellingen again became available on Tuesday, nursing staff had not been aware contact had not been established.

"There should have been further contact," Mrs Bennett said, "it was very regrettable and we have extended our sincere apologies."

Mrs Bennett said the acting director of nursing, Steve Rodwell, had talked to Mrs Brien and additional processes would be introduced at ward level where a transfer had been delayed.

"Clearly there needs to be heightened scrutiny," Mrs Bennett said.

By 3pm yesterday Mrs Brien had managed to arrange for Dr Brien, who has private health insurance, to be transferred to Baringa Private Hospital while she began the process of finding him a nursing home bed in the city.

"We hope we can find him a nursing home bed before his time at Baringa runs out," said Mrs Brien, who has been travelling from her country home at Upper Orara into Coffs Harbour to visit her husband every day since he was hospitalised in October following a heart attack and other complications. He can no longer walk since a recent stroke.

Mrs Brien said she had been at Dr Brien's bedside at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus from 11am to after 1pm on Monday, his son and daughter had been there for three hours, and no one had mentioned a possible transfer to any of them.

Mrs Brien's daughter, Kath Tucker, said the hospital had been given three contact telephone numbers to provide maximum contact. Mrs Bennett said the hospital had rung the number listed as Dr Brien's next of kin.

Mr Rodwell said the 24-bed rehabilitation ward at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus would re-open on Monday.

Rehab. patients were moved to medical and surgical wards when this ward closed over Christmas.

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