Wednesday 23rd April 2008
Union inspection reveals design, safety flaws
Under pressure from the Nurses’ Association, staff recruitment is being fast-tracked at the new but seriously flawed Bathurst Base Hospital.
At the same time, the union is seeking solutions to a host of basic design and safety defects identified during a NSWNA inspection of the $98 million facility in central western NSW (see story next page).
The list of occupational health and safety problems identified by the NSWNA runs to more than 50 pages.
‘It is just unbelievable that a brand new facility can have so many serious OH&S problems,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda.
‘Nurses expect that these issues will be addressed promptly and properly. We also expect that a lot more care will be taken with the redevelopment of Orange Base Hospital and other future hospital redevelopments,’ Judith said.
‘We are also seeking immediate action to reduce the heavy workloads – some nurses are working up to 110 hours a fortnight.’
The NSWNA branch at the hospital had been pressing for more nurses since mid-2007. Three days before the opening of the new hospital on 21 January, the branch decided to hold a stopwork meeting to coincide with the opening. It was only then that management finally agreed to employ sufficient nurses.
Branch secretary, Cheryl O’Brien, said management moved to fast-track staff recruitment in early March. She said some agency nurses had been brought in to fill vacancies in the short term and management was proposing to hire more.
Doctors have offered nurses their complete support in the campaign to secure adequate staffing.
‘Nurses are the lifeblood of the hospital. We recognise they work very hard, way beyond the call of duty,’ said Dr Stavros Prineas, spokesman for the Bathurst Medical Staff Council.
‘We must seize this opportunity to make sure the issues nurses found so troublesome in the old hospital are not revisited in the new one.’
Doctors banned non-urgent surgery in February because of safety concerns surrounding the operating theatres’ communications system.
Day surgery procedures have since resumed with doctors using walkie-talkies as a stop-gap measure until an adequate communication system can be installed.
However, the College of Surgeons said all four of Bathurst Hospital’s operating theatres needed to be rebuilt because they are too small and do not meet national standards.
Cheryl O’Brien said the severe staff shortage and design and equipment shortcomings have had ‘an enormous impact’ on nurses.
‘But true to their form, the nurses have worked on despite enormous stress and are providing the best quality care that they can give,’ she said.
‘Without the support of the Nurses’ Association we would be at the mercy of all these problems. It’s been great to be able to draw on the Association to get all this support.’
Meanwhile, following Bathurst’s disastrous opening, the union is seeking a review of the process by which NSW public hospitals are designed and built.
The union has written to the Minister for Health, the Health Department and the Health Infrastructure Chief Executive, Robert Rust, asking for a review of the process of facility planning and standard clauses in the design and construct contract.
‘Obviously, in the case of Bathurst hospital the planning and consultation process was fundamentally inadequate,’ said the union’s OH&S Coordinator, Trish Butrej.
She said there appeared to be no requirement for nurses or occupational health and safety specialists to be represented on the various higher-level committees overseeing the planning and design process.
‘The current process also allows facilities to be occupied before all fire safety and communications systems have been thoroughly checked to ensure that they are functioning properly,’ Trish said.
The State Government set up the Health Infrastructure Board last June to oversee the delivery of the NSW Government’s hospital building program.
The hospital building program, costed at more than $3 billion for the next five years, includes the redevelopment of the Newcastle Mater, Liverpool, and Royal North Shore hospitals; upgrades to Lismore, Orange and Auburn hospitals; and development of new after hours GP clinics.