As the state’s new health minister, Brad Hazzard, prepares to visit north coast hospitals for his first time in the role, his ALP counterpart, Walt Secord, has challenged him to ‘spell out how he is going to fix chronic understaffing across the region’.
Mr Secord issued the challenge after it was revealed in The Daily Telegraph yesterday that Mr Hazzard is set to visit Ballina District, Byron Central and Lismore Base hospitals this week.
The shadow minister’s call follows a series of incidents and long delays at the hospitals over the last month, exposed by Echonetdaily.
They include: a patient in a hospital gown found lying outside on the concrete at Ballina Hospital on New Year’s Day; and a woman with bowel obstruction forced to wait 10 hours for an ambulance transfer from Byron Hospital on January 22.
‘Clearly, we need to get into some of the regional areas, we need to look at improving our hospital facilities,’ Minister Hazzard told The Telegraph.
‘You can’t have a level-five hospital on every corner, but you can certainly have a good community hospital with the right facilities so I will be looking very closely… at which hospitals may need further upgrades,’ he added.
But despite the minister’s statement, the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) insists it doesn’t have a problem.
CEO Wayne Jones told Echonetdaily, ‘staffing levels at Byron Central Hospital (BCH) are constantly under review, and where required, additional staffing is provided.’
‘The Northern NSW Local Health District works closely with the BCH clinicians and management to ensure appropriate nursing and medical staff are rostered according to skill levels and patient mix at all times.
‘The NNSW LHD rejects the claim that nursing staff levels at BCH are unsafe,’ Mr Jones said.
But Mr Secord says north coast residents have been abandoned by the Nationals in government.
Mr Walt Secord said: ‘Make no mistake, the north coast is struggling under the pressure of a health and hospital system at breaking point.’
‘The Nationals have neglected the health and hospital needs of families on the north coast – with patients experiencing some of the longest waits in the state.’
‘Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in our country hospitals are working their guts out, but they are not being supported properly.’
‘Unfortunately, patients in rural and regional areas wait at every stage. They wait for an ambulance; they wait in emergency department; they wait in so-called short stay units; they wait for a bed and when they get a bed they are discharged early before they are ready to make way for other patients.’
Mr Secord said Mr Hazzard on his upcoming visit must:
- Deliver a specific timetable with dates and deadlines on the Tweed Hospital upgrade – which has been promised to the staff medical council and to the community;
- Respond to the chronic understaffing at Byron Central Hospital and Ballina Hospital’s emergency departments;
- Release the results of his inquiry into the lengthy waits for ambulance services at Byron Central Hospital – and whether there are enough paramedics and ambulances on the north coast;
- Guarantee that Lismore Base Hospital has adequate staffing levels to meet the growing needs; and
- Provide details on how the Nationals are going to cut waits in emergency departments and for elective surgery on the north coast.
Echonetdaily has contacted Mr Hazzard’s office for details of his trip and is awaiting a response.