Staffing arrangements at the South East Regional Hospital (SERH) have been slammed by the NSW Australian Medical Association (AMA) and NSW Rural Doctors Association (RDA) presidents who have said that medical staff at SERH are being asked to do too much with too little.
The two presidents have called on the Southern NSW Local Health District to fix the problem saying that without adequate staffing the Bega hospital is “just a bigger building”.
AMA (NSW) president, Professor Brad Frankum, said that when the new hospital came online, it wasn’t adequately resourced in terms of staff for a facility of its size.
RDA (NSW) president Dr Emma Cunningham was more specific in her criticism.
“There is often only one doctor in the emergency department (ED) but they are seeing enough patients that you would expect to see two to three doctors covering the shift with some crossover between shifts,” Dr Cunningham said.
“Part of that is due to the hospital not hiring enough doctors, a base hospital workload cannot be expected to be performed by a rural-hospital-sized medical staff. This is highlighted by the fact that there are only a handful of physicians and one locum paediatrician,” Prof Frankum said.
“Trying to run it as a base hospital with the staffing levels of a rural one will not provide the health services that Bega needs,” he added.
Dr Cunningham said that SERH had seen a large increase in the number of patients attending ED.
“Waiting times have increased and the number of patients spending more than four hours in ED has increased. More people are waiting for longer,” she said.
Four hours is the national target for anyone attending ED to being discharged or admitted to hospital, Dr Cunningham explained.
“There are issues around staffing. It is a shiny new building but there is a lack of staffing on the ground and a lack of support for those that do exist,” she said.
“We need the right number of doctors, with the right training, and the right support to ensure a stable long-term workforce supplying the region's healthcare. Strangely, while the hospital has local doctors it can call on, management often ships in temporary locums from Canberra and Sydney,” Dr Cunningham said.
“Meanwhile, when it does utilise the local doctors, it does not provide them with the support they would receive at a base-hospital-sized facility.”
“The SERH is an impressive piece of infrastructure but it still lacks many critical services that a base hospital needs,” Prof Frankum said.
“When it comes to health funding, building a hospital is one thing but the funding to keep the services it provides going is another thing entirely.
"A change in name does not equate to a change in services.
“This extends to staff to share the on-call roster as well as providing facilities like a properly resourced intensive care unit.
“This kind of ambition mixed with corner-cutting will result in a poorer standard of medical care for the people of Bega,” Prof Frankum said.
“Additionally, it makes the hospital less likely to retain existing staff and attract new people to work there.
“If you can work under better conditions in a larger city, at a better equipped and staffed hospital, doctors will leave and you won’t be able to find anyone to replace them. This compounds the problem rural areas have attracting medical staff. It needs to be added, the SERH is not alone in having this problem.
“Doctors in rural and regional NSW have been reporting they have similar issues to deal with at their new or recently-upgraded hospitals,” Prof Frankum said.
“I am all for the SERH aiming to step up to base hospital level but management is going about this the wrong way. Just having a new, larger hospital is not enough.
“You need to staff it appropriately and you need to ensure that it has the facilities to provide the additional services of a base hospital.
“Without that, it’s just a bigger building,” Prof Frankum said.
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