Dial triple-0: this time it’s the hospital in crisis

Wollongong Hospital is struggling to meet demand, and bed numbers have hit a critical point.Doctors at Wollongong Hospital are under pressure to discharge or transfer patients as managers struggle to deal with a bed shortage crisis.

The Mercury has learned the hospital has been short of up to 38 beds, with staff given directives at least six times this month to “urgently review patients currently in Wollongong Hospital and discharge where possible”.

“We have reached a critical point in relation to available beds,” the directives said.

“We urgently require patients who can be discharged, either home, home with support, to another ISLHD [Illawarra and Shoalhaven Local Health District] facility or to a private hospital to be discharged or transferred as soon as possible,” one directive said.

On August 21 the hospital was “minus 32 beds” and on August 3 it was “minus 38 beds”.

Theatre lists also had to be reviewed due to high numbers.

A hospital source described the situation as disastrous.

“Nurses are working to rule in the operating theatres and have been doing so for months due to lack of staff numbers,” he said.

“They’ve had the nursing union on to this for many months and many of the experienced nurses have left.

“The casualty situation is a disaster, with frequently more than 30 patients waiting for beds for electives and for emergency transfers.

“The operating theatres for elective surgeries in most instances are being closed at 4pm because nurses are working to rule, therefore the theatres aren’t being used efficiently.”

Wollongong Hospital general manager Nicole Sheppard said there had been a significant increase in activity over the winter months, with between 10 and 13 extra patients presenting to the emergency department each day as well as eight additional ambulance presentations.

She said executive and medical staff worked closely with paramedics to handle any patient-flow issues and stressed the priority was safe and appropriate care of all patients.

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said the revelations showed there were “simply not enough resources to do the job that is required in our health system in this region”.

“Solutions are not always simple. What we really need to do now is to not sweep this under the carpet as has been done for the last 10 to 20 years,” he said.

“Now is the time to actually admit to the problem and fix it.”

Mr Rorris said the complex problems required consultation between government, health and community stakeholders, and “independent scrutiny” of the system.

“Patients are speaking out, health workers are speaking out, and the community is demanding action, not excuses.”

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