Coffs hospital needs intensive care

The Coffs Harbour Health Campus.
The Coffs Harbour Health Campus. The Coffs Coast Advocate

URGENT operations are being cancelled, suppliers remain unpaid, nurses are being sacked and emergency department staffing at Coffs Harbour Health Campus is dropping to critical levels, say Coffs Harbour surgeons. A letter from Dr Bill Ross was read into the Parliamentary record Hansard on Thursday by the Member for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser.

Dr Ross said he had operating sessions for the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas to accommodate urgent cancer cases, but these had been cancelled, which would mean a month’s delay in their care.

Dr Ross said the national guidelines for breast cancer said that treatment should be within two weeks of diagnosis, so the cancellation meant there was an immediate backlog.

He said administrators at Coffs Harbour Health Campus had been told to close down surgery, except for one emergency theatre, from December 22 to January 19.

A spokesman for the North Coast Area Health Service said Dr Ross had not advised the Coffs Harbour Base Hospital (CHHC) Surgical Booking Office that he had urgent cancer patients, who needed to be operated on during the week, commencing 22 December 2008, none of his patients had been cancelled from those sessions and time would be made available if any of his patients were in danger of going over their benchmark wait time.

The hospital’s Medical Staff Council says the decision to reduce the night medical cover for wards and the emergency department by 50 per cent from January represents ‘a very significant clinical risk.’ The MSC says other emergency departments of similar size, with fewer emergency patients arriving at the door have a minimum of two doctors working exclusively in ED overnight.

Another specialist said he was shocked to hear that at least five valuable and experienced nurses working in operating theatres and recovery had not had their contracts renewed, which in at least one case would mean the nurse would leave the area, as she could not afford to wait until late January to find out if she was offered a new contract when operating theatres re-opened.

Dr Ross said some long-time casual nursing staff had found out they had been ‘sacked’ when they could not find their names on the new roster.

Dr Ross said doctors at the hospital had been paid, although a week late, but he understood some suppliers were still waiting to be paid.

The spokesman for the North Coast Area Health Service said the claims made by the Medical Staff Council were speculation.

"Strategies are still being developed through a consultative process to determine how many staff and from what sites and services will be reduced across the North Coast Area Health Service," the spokesman said.

"There will be no forced redundancies implemented, as part of the strategies, so the positions of permanent staff at CHHC are secure."

Andrew Fraser is calling on the state government to adequately fund the Campus.

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