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May 12, 2021

Byron Hospital ‘not geared up’ to deal with stroke

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When Paul Rea presented to Byron Central Hospital suffering a stroke on March 27 his wife was told to drive him to the Gold Coast. Photo supplied
When Paul Rea presented to Byron Central Hospital suffering a stroke on March 27 his wife was told to drive him to the Gold Coast. Photo supplied

Chris Dobney

The health department is investigating why a Coorabell man in the process of having a stroke was told by a doctor at Byron Central Hospital there were no facilities to treat him there and no ambulance available to take him to the Gold Coast for urgent treatment.

Paul Rea told Echonetdaily that around 11 am on Monday March 27, at the first sign of stroke, his wife drove him straight to Byron Bay Central Hospital.

Mr Rea was experiencing loss of feeling and the use of his right leg.

But he says that when he arrived at the hospital ‘the attending doctor said they were not geared up to treat stroke patients and I needed to get to John Flynn hospital ASAP.’

‘The doctor said they could not arrange ambulance travel before mid-afternoon and he advised that we set off in my wife’s car. “And don’t stop for coffee,” he said.

Mr Rea says he was ‘clearly in worse shape when I got out of the car than when I got in.’

‘I was admitted to John Flynn’s stroke ward and later to rehab.

‘The admissions staff were ropeable that medical protocols had not been followed at Byron Hospital.

‘My stroke was still in progress and had I suffered far worse deterioration during the trip north, what would my wife have done? Sped up? Called for an ambulance? Pulled over and tried to flag down a passing motorist?

‘Ambulance care is regarded as essential in such cases.’

Mr Rea says that his treatment as a patient for two weeks at John Flynn was ‘excellent and I am now fully recovered.’

Sorry to have to add my story to the growing list of poor treatment at Byron. I do so in the hope that public reporting of such incidents may lead the NSW Government to adequately funding and resourcing our hospital,’ he said.

No ambulance record

Wayne Jones, chief executive of the Northern NSW Local Health District, told Echonetdaily the LHD was investigating the case and that ‘no further information can be provided prior to the completion of the investigation.’

A spokesperson for NSW Ambulance said only that there was ‘no record of a request for transfer’ for Mr Rea from the hospital.

External investigation demanded

But NSW shadow health minister Walt Secord has demanded the government launch an independent external investigation into ambulance staffing levels on the north coast and whether the new Byron Central Hospital is being properly resourced and staffed.

Mr Secord said he was ‘alarmed and disturbed’ by the growing list of recent patient failures at Byron Central Hospital and involving the NSW Ambulance Service on the north coast.

‘It is simply downright ludicrous that a NSW hospital was unable to treat a stroke victim.’

‘Serious questions need to be answered about whether Byron Central Hospital and the NSW Ambulance Service are being properly resourced on the north coast.

‘It seems like another day, another patient at Byron Central Hospital is unable to be properly treated and they had to be transferred to Queensland.’

‘Earlier this year, we saw the horrific incident where a woman with a bowel obstruction had to wait 13 hours because an ambulance was unavailable.

‘There is little point in spending millions to build a brand new hospital, then fail to properly resource that hospital. It does not make sense.’

‘The drive from Coorabell to Byron Bay Central Hospital is 17 kilometres and from Byron Central Hospital to John Flynn Private Hospital is another 73 kilometres.

All up that is 90 kilometres– an incredible distance for someone having a stroke to travel,’ Mr Secord said.


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  1. There is clearly a problem with funding for the hospital. The doctor and nurses I spoke with during a recent trip to the emergency dept after a snake bite were terrific but were quite vocal about there routinely not being enough staff. Plus the fact that there is no surgery unit! I was previously able to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy at the ‘old” Byron Hospital, now with this whizzbang new one I have to go to Lismore Base for this quite routine procedure, and wait more than six months to boot. As Mr Secord points out it makes no sense to spend millions building a hospital but not provide the money to resource it properly.

  2. I think we should all wear a neck band announcing in case of emergency take me to the Tweed or John Flynn, bypass Byron, a hospital in anme only!

  3. I do hope the Liberal government ( yes that’s you Gladys and ryorui inept bunch of autocrats ) see these comments from their media monitor feeds. yet another example of incompetence under Jillian Skinner, who was dumped from her role and the North Coast district management boards.

    The stroke care at Mullumbimby was fantastic and provided a good first base intervention and either ambulance or chopper transfer to Tweed for further imaging and interventions.

    You would think for a major new hospital it would be fully staffed and resourced for this type of issue, be it with first line clot busting drugs ( as although stents are preferable, it is a larger area procedure ), CT imaging on demand and so forth.

    But no, we have to face the incompetence of the Liberals. Fortunately for them they will be gone at the next election, with swings they even won’t expect.

    I would urge all locals to write to the Premier direct about the issues at this hospital and also at Mullum with the old site.

    It’s clear the new hospital was nothing but a ” ruse ” for a land grab of the other facilitates and a way to cut back multiple site staff to a third wold staff structure, to match our third world roads up here.

    Get off your arse Gladys and get your new minister for health to fix this mess before you say ” sayonara ” at the next election.

    Thankfully, this man had support and someone to drive him. What about those that are not so fortunate ? Do we need another death for someone to listen in Sydney ?

  4. I’m glad you made it, Paul.

    This is an extremely serious issue.

    Last October, a trip to Emergency at Byron Hospital at 3 am revealed to us the shortcomings of the Hospital and the Ambulance service. What was later diagnosed as a ruptured appendix was unable to be treated at Byron – no operation theatres. A ruptured appendix can be life-threatening. My partner needed to be transferred to Tweed Hospital. There was no Ambulance at/available to Byron. One had to be called from Tweed! – the destination she required! There was one nurse and one doctor and all they could do was provide pain relief. Some 4 hours later, my partner arrived at Tweed Hospital and it was some considerable time again until she was admitted to surgery [it is not clear that adequate staffing and resources were available there!]… any and all delays surely contributing to the struggle she faced to beat serious infection across the next 9 days! It was terrifying.

    Come clean local, State and Federal governments! Is the new Byron Hospital nothing more than an underfunded and under-resourced Triage Unit – for OTHER Hospitals?!

    How many Ambulances SHOULD be available and on standby to service the population of the Northern Rivers? Do we have them? Why not? Where were the ambulances when my partner and Paul and others needed them?

  5. Well done Paul for voicing his story.
    Feels like we need a list of what the new hospital can actually deal with. Bumps and grazes perhaps?

  6. ‘There is little point in spending millions to build a brand new hospital, then fail to properly resource that hospital. It does not make sense.’

    Makes perfect sense if your agenda is to eventually sell it off as the Coalition seem so eager to do time and time again with our taxed payer funded assets.
    Use taxpayers money to build some thing up, deny it proper funding so it is unable to function effectively and start shouting about how much better it would be if it was privately owned. Perfect recipe for sneaky privatisation.

  7. On Mr Jones’s comments, how can the failure of the Byron Central Hospital to call for an ambulance in my case be characterised as providing me with the option to travel privately to John Flynn? My condition deteriorated significantly over the time taken for my wife to drive me to John Flynn such that on arrival I could barely get out of the car and barely walk when I did so. In what sense was my condition ‘stable’ when clearly my stroke was still in progress.

    My wife and I should never have been sent on this highly risky path. The Stroke Foundation tells us strokes should always be treated as medical emergencies. My treatment at Byron Hospital cannot be made good by Mr Jones’s selective and self-serving language.

  8. While I personally believe there are resource deficiencies at the new hospital, the same claim is likely to be made for most hospitals in NSW. My comment is about the lopsided reporting in this article. It is not until a couple of paragraphs at the end of a very long article, that initially claims half of the front page, that it is clear that the medical opinion on the spot was that the patients condition had stabilised and that a referral was made to a specialist. The inference made in the article and in comments by the patient, is that there was a professional lack by the medical staff at Byron Hospital. For example there are several quotes from the patient suggesting that he was not stable in spite of the treating doctors opinion that he was and that John Flynn’s medical staff were ropeable with Byrons medical treatment.
    I repeat I am not questioning that there is a lack of resources at Byron Hospital. I am questioning the reporting that does not clearly seperate the performance of the medical staff under trying conditions from bureaucratic bungling, political cover ups, health department policy, and implied service delivery disputes between the public and private systems.


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