Regional hospital has pulse checked, found lacking on culture and lived values

NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce, Southern NSW Local Health District board chairwoman Jenny Symons and NSW Health Secretary Elizabeth Koff address media on Tuesday
NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce, Southern NSW Local Health District board chairwoman Jenny Symons and NSW Health Secretary Elizabeth Koff address media on Tuesday

A “new era” at the South East Regional Hospital was heralded on Tuesday, after a review “checking its pulse” handed in its findings this week.

A review into the operation and management of the SERH flagged by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard in mid-March released its findings and recommendations to the public on Tuesday afternoon.

The report was briefly outlined to media by NSW Health Secretary Elizabeth Koff, Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce and Southern NSW Local Health District board chairwoman Jenny Symons.

There was a lot of talk about the “beautiful new building” and the move to the new larger hospital being a challenge.

Meanwhile, much of the community’s angst remains focused on staffing levels, management decisions and in particular the orthopaedic department and dismissal of surgeon Chris Phoon.

A question regarding Dr Phoon to Ms Pearce on Tuesday afternoon was met with a firm “no comment”, pointing out that was a process distinct from the report in question. Ms Pearce also negotiated past questions over specific personnel concerns as they relate to “cultural issues” at SERH.

“The report does not go to that nature. What it does go to are issues frankly of the past that could have been done better,” she said.

“I don’t know that blaming is helpful and not what this report is seeking to do.”

Issues that are highlighted in the report – which is publicly available on the SNSWLHD website – include “inadequate attention” to clinical workforce requirements and admin support needs.

“While there was a great deal of investment in and attention paid to the capital requirements in building SERH, it appears that there was minimal investment in the people and the culture desired in the new hospital,” the report, penned by Michael Reid and Adrian Nowitze, reads.

It was also a finding of the review that there “appears to be an unacceptable level of bullying and harassment which requires rectification”.

Among the 10 key recommendations made in the report are the creation of a cross-disciplinary leadership group that models exemplary values; reviewing and modernising the models of care in a process led by clinical leaders; implementing a hospital-wide program to address “systemic and long-standing bullying and harassment”; employing additional admin support staff; and improving the human resources capability to adequately support hiring and managing staff.

“The attention focused on the non-capital related issues was sadly lacking. Nevertheless, the reviewers found a willingness of staff and others to both acknowledge these failings and endeavor to rectify them. Some of this rectification is already well underway by both district and SERH personnel.”

The reviewers said their 10-point plan, if fully embraced, would serve as a starting point for ongoing improvement. 

They proposed that a project manager be appointed to work with the local management team and the local health district to implement the recommendations and that external reviews be conducted in six and 12 months’ time to assess progress.