Doctors say ‘patients have died unnecessarily’ due to dangerous conditions at Launceston hospital

Patients are dying unnecessarily at the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) in northern Tasmania, clinicians claim.

Registrars at the hospital’s emergency department (ED) have written an explosive letter to management saying it is unsafe for patients, with one person dying recently in a waiting room.

The letter, dated September 14, is signed by almost 20 clinicians who say they can “no longer remain silent”.

In it, doctors raised concerns about consistent bed block they labelled “unacceptable, dangerous and unsustainable”.

“We come to work each day knowing that our workplace is not safe for patients and that we will be forced to give sub-optimal care,” the letter says.

“Morale amongst colleagues is low and continues to decline.”

The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine has previously found the LGH had the worst bed block in the country.

The letter said doctors were forced to assess patients in chairs, on ambulance stretchers, or examine them in corridors monitored by security cameras.

“These cameras are not monitored by clinical staff, they are monitored by contracted security staff,” the letter said.

“This is not acceptable, this is not appropriate, this is not what our community deserves.”

Doctors said they regularly had to take blood and insert cannulas in overcrowded areas, mentally unwell patients were forced to remain in overcrowded and over-stimulated areas and opioids were given in unmonitored areas.

Tasmanian Labor MP Michelle O'Byrne
Labor’s Michelle O’Byrne says the letter describes a “devastating account” of the conditions at the hospital.(ABC News: Laura Beavis)

“A patient recently died in the waiting room under these circumstances.

“It is the general feeling amongst staff that if he had been in a monitored area his deterioration would have been noticed well before his death.”

The letter also included a list of areas that needed to be urgently addressed:

They included:

  • Utilising all available beds in the northern region
  • Improving the availability of diagnostic services after hours
  • Ensuring allied health staff were available seven days a week and mental health services 24 hours a day
  • Fixing negative pressure facilities

The doctors also outlined concerns that it was not possible to socially distance in ED.

Doctors at ‘breaking point’

Deputy Labor leader Michelle O’Byrne mentioned the letter in State Parliament, saying it was a “devastating account” of the conditions at the hospital.

“Doctors at the Launceston General Hospital have now reached breaking point,” Ms O’Byrne said.

“Minister, how many patients have died at the LGH as a result of chronic bed block and understaffing?”

Health Minister Sarah Courtney said she had not seen the letter.

Ms Courtney thanked staff for their hard work during the pandemic and outlined planned upgrades at the hospital including the redevelopment of Ward 4K.

“We’ll continue to make sure that we are doing the best we can to support our hardworking clinicians,” she said.

“We understand there is still more work to do to support our hardworking clinicians and Tasmanians who need our care.”

Hospital ward.
Doctors say there is not the space to treat and monitor patients at Launceston General Hospital.(ABC News: Damian Mcintyre)