Horror stories abound as leaked report highlights the gross understaffing of Emergency Department.
Horror stories abound as leaked report highlights the gross understaffing of Emergency Department.

Crisis at Coffs health campus

COFFS Harbour’s Emergency Department is unravelling at the seams as its overworked staff fails to keep up with the flood of sick and injured people crowding in the doors.

While last week saw stress levels reach overload, hospital staff say Coffs Harbour ED is seriously understaffed on a permanent basis and the situation is not simply a matter of managing peaks and troughs.

Local health analysts say Coffs Harbour has a historical under-resourcing problem which has never been fixed.

A Coffs Harbour Health Campus document leaked to Nationals MP Andrew Fraser shows ED medical staffing needs to be increased by an additional 8.05 full-time equivalents to ‘achieve parity with our peer hospitals in the NCAHS’.

“This document states that ‘even if we were only given a minimum of 4.25 full-time equivalents this would enable an additional two 10-hours shifts to be rostered each day and would improve the junior medical staff: ED presentations ratio to 1:1723’.” Mr Fraser said.

People who went to Coffs Harbour’s Emergency Department last Monday and Tuesday nights are still reeling from the experience.

They speak about people with serious illnesses waiting up to eight hours for treatment; of watching a woman who was bleeding and vomiting leave the hospital after giving up the wait and of dealing with ED staff under almost intolerable stress.

Seven ambulances, virtually the entire Coffs Coast ambulance fleet, were lined up at the Emergency Department for a period on Monday night as ED staff battled to find somewhere to put ill patients.

One observer said it was lucky that there was no major road accident because it looked as though there was no way either the ambulance or hospital service could have coped with it.

“It was like a war zone,” said one man who attended ED on Tuesday night and found himself hunting for a rubbish bin for a vomiting woman while he was waiting.

Another woman, whose companion was sent to ED to have stitches in his finger after attending the after-hours GP clinic joked that his finger would be healed up before the stitches were inserted.

Sandy Casson, who was minding a four-year-old child on her Upper Orara farm while his breast-feeding mother attended ED with her ill two-year-old on Monday – is still angry about her friend’s marathon wait.

“She was sitting there for nine hours with a screaming small boy she thought had a gastric problem and a breastfeeding baby,” Mrs Casson said.

“The little boy had horrible pains and was vomiting. I rang at 9pm and she had not even been seen by a doctor.

“They told me there was no doctor available. It was after midnight when the child was admitted to the hospital and she set off for the hospital in the morning.”

The North Coast Area Health Service says it has procedures in place to deal with peaks in demand, including ‘redeploying and calling in additional medical and nursing staff as appropriate.

The NCAHS also pointed to the Express Community Care Clinic opened in Coffs Harbour ED in September.

This unit sees lower-priority patients, reducing the demand on the main Emergency Department but patients said it was closed during the busiest ED hours – evenings.

“In addition a 10-bed Emergency Medicine unit is planned to be built on to the ED in 2011, which will increase the overall bed and staffing capacity of ED. This will include additional nursing, medical and allied health staffing,” a spokeswoman for the NCAHS said.

“NCAHS apologises to those people who have to wait while more acute patients are being seen in the ED and extends its appreciation to the medical and nursing staff who assists in times of peak demand.”

Andrew Fraser said over the last six weeks his office had received numerous complaints from citizens who had been kept waiting for up to seven hours in the Emergency Department at the CHHC.

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