Bed closures hit Western hospitals

RUNNING OUT OF PATIENCE: Lyn Sloane and Tatiana Muller (front) and their nursing colleagues are fighting planned cuts
RUNNING OUT OF PATIENCE: Lyn Sloane and Tatiana Muller (front) and their nursing colleagues are fighting planned cuts

Communities rally in support of nurses and midwives as positions go at Bathurst and Orange.

Bathurst Hospital has been hit by the closure of five surgical beds following the loss of nine full-time equivalent jobs, including five nursing positions. Affected nurses were transferred to fill vacancies elsewhere in the hospital.

“No individual nurse lost their job but five nursing positions have gone,” said Tatiana Muller, president of the hospital’s NSWNMA branch. “Management got rid of the cafeteria earlier this year and this looks like another cost-cutting measure.”

Management reclassified the five affected beds as surge beds, to be opened and closed when needed and staffed by casuals. Tatiana said any delays in finding casual staff could result in bed block in the emergency department.

“Bathurst does not have an EMU (Emergency Medical Unit) where patients can stay while waiting for an inpatient bed,” she said.

Bathurst residents attended two community rallies, at Victoria Park and outside the office of National Party MP Paul Toole.

“Just as an example of what these bed closures mean, on the day of the rally we had a patient come in with a complicated break to his leg and needing surgery,” Tatiana said.

“Surgeons were available at Bathurst hospital but there was no commissioned bed for him. So this poor kid and his family had to go all the way to Orange.”

Speakers at the Victoria Park rally included the Association’s Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda, three specialist doctors, and three Bathurst city councillors. Judith Kiejda said it was time National Party MPs stood up for people in regional and rural New South Wales, who are the very people they claim to represent.

“Bathurst Hospital already has longer surgery waiting times than the national average – 54 days for Bathurst against the national average of 31 days in 2011-12 – and the hospital should be working to shorten that time, not closing surgery beds and reducing theatre sessions,” Judith said.

Chairman of the Bathurst Medical Staff Council, Dr Ray Parkin, told the rally the bed closures would result in longer waiting times in accident and emergency and delays to surgery, and could compromise patient safety.

At Orange Hospital, 60 kilometres from Bathurst, nurses led a community protest outside the office of National Party member for Orange, Andrew Gee, to draw attention to bed closures, inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios and other health care issues.

Orange Hospital’s closure of 12 sub-acute beds for sub-acute and palliative care patients was the main focus of the protest by about 80 nurses and other local residents, including Fire Brigade staff and members of the Central West Union Alliance.

Secretary of the hospital’s NSWNMA branch, Luke Marks, said Western NSW Local Health District had transferred the beds to smaller hospitals (at Molong, Blayney and Canowindra) without adequate consultation with nurses and the community.

A resolution passed by a meeting of 85 branch members described the lack of consultation as “disrespectful to staff, but most of all to the patients whose lives have been disrupted at this awful personal time.”

Luke said affected staff members were redeployed to fill vacancies in other parts of the hospital.

“Initially staff members were simply allocated to new wards based on recommendations from management. But after we protested they were given a choice of where they wanted to go within the vacancies of the hospital,” Luke said.