Old, falling apart and unsafe!


Workcover orders improvements at Bega hospital

Operating theatre staff at Bega District Hospital were at risk of being electrocuted because of unsafe and unmaintained electrical installation.

Staff were also in danger of tripping over electrical leads running across the floor and slipping on wet floors, and their health was at risk from hot and stale air due to inadequate air conditioning.

These and other hazards were revealed by a Workcover inspection of the 50-year-old theatre prompted by complaints from doctors.

Workcover issued Greater Southern Area Health with nine notices for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and gave the health service a month to fix the problems. Workcover later granted an extension of time until April when the theatre will briefly close to allow major work to be done.

The notices instruct the health service to:

  • Ensure all electrical installations are in good working order and to consider implementing a pendant installation system to keep electrical leads off the floor.
  • Provide safe and unhindered access to the theatre and develop a system to ensure that floors are kept dry.
  • Eliminate manual handling risks associated with lifting, stacking and unstacking kits, and moving beds through blocked hallways.

The health service must follow the prescribed consultative process on OH&S issues and ensure that staff are consulted on changes, Workcover said.

The Workcover inspection came amid growing community concern over old and inadequate hospital facilities on the far south coast of NSW.

‘Both Bega (almost 70 beds) and Pambula (30 beds) hospitals are inadequate to meet the needs of the fast-growing community,’ said Linda MacGregor, After Hours Nurse Manager at Bega Hospital and Nurses Association Councillor.

‘Area management are well aware of this and are asking NSW Health for a new facility to incorporate both hospitals, but that is at least eight years away on the current plan,’ Linda said.

‘Meanwhile Bega hospital is basically falling down and parts of it such as theatre are dangerous, yet Area management say they don’t have the money to do much about it’.

‘The community are holding meetings to push for something to be done urgently, and the doctors in particular are asking for an extended two theatre suite to be attached to the existing structure.’

The operating theatre will shut briefly in April to allow for electrical work including installation of a pendant system for cables, laying of floor coverings and review of the air-conditioning system.

The Lamp understands local health service management have arranged for a compactus storage system for the operating theatre and mats have been changed to alleviate problems associated with water spillage from sinks. The air conditioning unit has been repaired pending the review in April.

Linda said that although the theatre was built to meet the needs and standards of the 1950s, a surgical services review recently recommended that more joint replacement and other major complex surgery be carried out there, with day surgery and endoscopies moving to Pambula.

Local politicians have called on the state government to use funds from the sale of its share in the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme to pay for a redeveloped operating theatre.

Linda said problems at Bega hospital were not confined to the operating theatre.

‘There is a huge problem with lack of storage space and extremely small patient care areas which make life difficult for staff and patients alike,’ she said.

‘The surgical ward with 20 patients and medical ward with 22 patients are not air-conditioned. The medical ward is on the top floor where it was 37 degrees the other day,’ she said.

‘We have a lot of elderly patients and they are really suffering from the heat. The nurses put fans on those patients most affected and keep curtains closed. But because it’s the top floor and heat travels upwards there’s not a lot they can do.’