The health disaster unfolding in our state 

8 April 2021

In what must be a new low for health care in this state, Balaklava Hospital was left without a single doctor during Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

On the Friday early shift the most senior member of staff in the hospital was a second-year registered nurse who was left to run an emergency department.

“The idea of the hospital remaining open for business including emergency presentations whilst having no medical coverage, shows a level of dereliction of duty of care not seen before in any Local Health Network to our knowledge,’’ said Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM.

“Balaklava members have stated that management were aware of the lack of medical support on the preceding Thursday and made no provisions.

“All staff on the weekend felt overwhelmed by the situation and greatly under supported. The SA Ambulance Service were still arriving with unwell patients and staff were simply informed to send all patients they were concerned about to the Lyell McEwin Hospital for assessment. This failure of leadership is unacceptable.

“In both metro and regional areas, hospitals are operating ridiculously over-capacity and under-staffed, putting both patient and nurse safety at terrible risk,’’ Ms Dabars said.

At Mt Barker Hospital recently 96 patients presented to the four-bed emergency department within a 24-hour period. And wait times for transfers from Gawler to the Lyell McEwin Hospital blew out to between 13 and 24 hours.

On Tuesday night 60 children were either waiting to be treated or waiting for a bed post-treatment at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) emergency department, putting staff under enormous stress.

That incident followed a damning report detailing 168 cases of ramping at the WCH in a single year and a parliamentary committee being told this week that two of four baby deaths linked to a lack of heart surgery services could potentially have been preventable.

And there are fears the proposed new Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be too small and have fewer beds.

“Not only are staff across the state stressed, fatigued and fearful of making a catastrophic mistake, they are also too frightened to speak out for fear of retribution from a health system that refuses to acknowledge or address its own ineptitude,’’ Ms Dabars said.

Wrote one nurse to the ANMF: “I’m writing anonymously because I know WCH discourage us from speaking out about work concerns.

“But we are at our absolute limit. Our mental health is suffering significantly. There’s many of us considering leaving the force and actively searching for other jobs, and the thought of working in a job once we used to love has just gone.’’

“I work at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the state of our staffing at the moment is just horrific,’’ wrote another nurse.

“I feel that our care is bordering on unsafe and the nurses working overtime, extras and 12-hour shifts are all becoming quickly burnt out, many people are off sick and/or fed up with being stressed to the max.’’

Of course, the situation is not limited to the WCH but endemic. The RAH is similarly overwhelmed, with, according to Adjunct Professor John Mendoza, an almost 40 per cent increase in mental health presentations in the two years to February, 2021, but no extra resources provided by the State Government.

Professor Mendoza recently quit his position as executive director of mental health and prison health services at the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN), launching a tirade against SA Health and the State Government.

“Professor Mendoza was quoted by media as saying the health department couldn’t organise a chook raffle … never have more succinct words been spoken,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“We recently wrote and spoke to the Health Minister, Stephen Wade, warning of the failure to urgently address the systemic problems of over-capacity, fatigue, burnout and violence in our under-staffed and under-resourced hospitals,’’ said Ms Dabars (who is visiting Whyalla Hospital today, the site of 22 assaults against nurses in a one-month period early this year).

“The consequences of inaction for the future of health care in this state will be disastrous, particularly given that an expected 50 per cent of nurses and midwives will leave the workforce in the next 10 years, many of them leaders and specialists in their field.

“We again stress to the powers that be that the time for action has long passed. We need a system that values, attracts and retains staff, a system that is safe for both patients and health care professionals and a system that can cater to the community’s most critical needs rather than perpetually lunge from one crisis to the next.’’