Mullumbimby Hospital will keep its emergency overnight doctor after the local health board yesterday decided to scrap the controversial plan to replace the doctor with a video link to Tweed Hospital.
Campaigners fighting to keep the doctor during the 11pm–7am shift as part of the new Telehealth system now in place at the hospital have welcomed the move, saying common sense has prevailed.
The proposed trial at Mullumbimby was considered a test case for similar Telehealth models at small rural hospitals across the state.
The decision comes after a series of public protest meetings this year involving nurses, doctors and the public, which overwhelmingly opposed the move.
Hazel Bridgett, the chair of the Northern NSW Local Health District board, which met yesterday, announced the scrapping of the proposed six-month trial where nurses were expected to operate the video link without a doctor on the overnight shift.
Ms Bridgett said in a press release that the decision not to proceed with the trial of a doctor-to-nurse Telehealth model was made ‘after careful consideration’, and on the recommendation of the health district chief executive Chris Crawford ‘following significant clinical and community consultation’.
‘The board has agreed with this recommendation and a decision has been made not to pursue this model,’ Ms Bridgett said.
‘The board has been pleased to note staff and community support for the Connecting Critical Care Telehealth system to be progressively implemented at sites across the Local Health District.
‘It has, however, been decided that a doctor will continue to provide overnight support at Mullumbimby Hospital emergency department.
‘The board has asked the management at Mullumbimby Hospital to look at more cost-effective methods to mitigate a reliance on locums.
‘The board has also asked management to continue to consult with local clinicians and the community to ensure the best for the patients of Mullumbimby and neighbouring communities.’
Senior nurse at the hospital, Shauna Boyle, told Echonetdaily the decision was expected, given they had been promised the trial would not go ahead without nurses’ agreement.
Ms Boyle said the NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) members felt their concerns about replacing the overnight doctor were unable to be addressed, including public safety, issues with nurses’ legal responsibility, connectivity of the system and ambulance response times.
Ms Boyle said nurses were not against Telehealth, which was a great addition to medical services, but opposed having to operate the video-link system without a doctor.
She said staff at other hospitals using the system told them it was never meant to replace a doctor.
‘We just couldn’t agree on ethical grounds as it would have put patients and ourselves in a dangerous position. It was just not an acceptable level of care,’ she said.
Mr Crawford told ABC North Coast this morning that Telehealth technology was already used to connect doctors in several local hospitals and in time nurses would feel more confident with the new technology
‘I eventually do believe it will be done on a doctor to nurse basis, already in a hundred hospitals throughout NSW for material periods of time, a nurse is remotely supported by a doctor, so we’re not at the very first step in this process,’ Mr Crawford said.
Ms Boyle said she had mixed feelings of relief and apprehension as to what the future held for the hospital, as the move to replace the overnight doctor was made because of budget blowouts and she fears further budget cuts could impact on hospital services.
NSWNA organiser Nola Scilinato told Echonetdaily, ‘branch members are happy, but were always aware that if this proposal didn’t go ahead, the Local Health District would look for cuts’.
Save Mullumbimby Hospital steering committee’s Frank Lynch said the community was ‘always strongly opposed to the prospect of losing the night doctor from the emergency department so there is a sense of relief that commonsense prevailed’.
‘The nurses are to be thanked for their resolute stand against the removal of the night doctor. This was the critical factor in defeating the proposal. The nurses’ principal concern was patient safety especially with the likelihood of many more transfers to Tweed Base Hospital.
‘The proposal provoked widespread angst not only locally but also in many rural areas because it was seen as a test case for smaller country hospitals.
‘It has generated a number of heated exchanges in state and federal parliament because of this “test-case” status and because it was seen as a “cost-cutting” measure without proper risk assessment having been done.
‘Night-times we can rest a little easier now knowing our emergency department is not under imminent threat.’