Coffs Hospital Emergency Department.
Coffs Hospital Emergency Department. TREVOR VEALE

Emergency concerns go public

SIX emergency medicine specialists at the Emergency Department (ED) of the Coffs Harbour Health Campus have said they will not accept sole responsibility for any consequences from the ‘inadequate’ level of medical care provided in the Coffs Harbour ED.

In a letter to the North Coast Area Health Service, Dr Cathy Constantine, Dr Paul Spillane, Dr Malcolm Robertson, Dr Lorna McLeod, Dr Tony Woolford and Dr Jon Dryburgh said it was six months since ED Director Dr Alan Tankel had advised the NCAHS executive of the need for a re-evaluation of the funded full time equivalent (medical staffing) to ensure the delivery of safe patient care in the Coffs Harbour ED and the situation was now fraught with an unacceptably high level of clinical risk.

“The data unequivocally shows that we have a relative shortfall of some 8.05 FTE in comparison to the average level of medical FTE across the other NCAHS base hospital EDs,” the doctors said

“It is the NCAHS executive alone that has the authority and responsibility to redress this imbalance and subsequent inequality of clinical service provision that exists for different populations on the North Coast.

“Through failing to act on out expert advice, the executive is giving tacit approval to an inequitable emergency medical service provision solely on the basis of geographical location,” the doctors said.

“We find this exceedingly disheartening and unacceptable.”

The letter was read out to the NSW Parliament on Thursday by the Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, in a private member’s statement after it was leaked to the MP.

The doctors said they had followed due process but this had been greeted by inaction, so they felt they had no option but to notify the executive that they could no longer accept sole responsibility “for the consequences that flow from an inadequate hour to hour level of medical care provided in the Coffs Harbour ED.

“While as a group of emergency specialists, we accept our pivotal role in providing the overarching governance in the ED, we feel strongly that our ability to do so is seriously compromised in the setting of a staffing situation that is grossly inadequate and carries a high level of clinical risk that would not be defendable to any external scrutiny,” the specialists said.

“We can no longer accept personal or professional responsibility for a situation that is clearly beyond our control to influence... the NCAHS must also accept a portion of the responsibility for any adverse outcomes...”

Mr Fraser said the letter was of concern because it confirmed there was a definite staffing crises and the welfare of patients was being put at risk.

He said he had raised the matter in parliament previously and had written to the NCAHS CEO Chris Crawford and the Minister for Health Carmel Tebbutt some time ago but nothing had improved.

He said unless the doctors’ request was acceded to immediately, the government would have to accept responsibility “for this deplorable situation and any tragedies that may occur”.

Parliamentary Secretary Dr Andrew McDonald said he noted the Coalition had made no election commitment to any increased funding for any area health service.

Dr McDonald said the doctors concerned had a right to expect a firm commitment on extra funding and staffing after the next election from the Coffs Harbour MP.



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