Emergency registrars at the Launceston General Hospital have written an explosive letter to a senior health bureaucrat, saying patients have died unnecessarily and that the hospital is at its “lowest ebb” due to bed block woes.
The letter, signed by 22 doctors working in the LGH emergency department and addressed to Tasmanian Health Service executive director of operations North and North West Eric Daniels, is an unvarnished assessment of the problems plaguing the hospital.
Deputy Labor leader Michelle O’Byrne quoted from the document in State Parliament on Tuesday morning.
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“Our patients have died unnecessarily, they have died because we did not have appropriate space to treat and monitor them,” the letter read.
“The waiting room often has at least 20 patients, with only a triage nurse and another registered nurse dedicated to care for them.
“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.”
One of the signatories of the letter spoke to The Examiner on condition of anonymity.
He said change was urgently needed at the LGH, for the sake of patient and staff safety.
“Bed block is the main measure on how the health system is performing,” he said. “And right now it’s s—.”
“The big issue with bed block is that it’s seen in the emergency department but it has nothing to do with the emergency department. It is poor culture in the hospital and lack of change on how to manage beds and how to manage patients when they’re admitted, which is really just getting worse and not really changing at all.
“As a consequence, we get congested and constipated in the emergency department. So we and the patients are really affected.”
The doctor said cultural change was needed “from the top down” in order to address the issues at the hospital.
In 2019, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine concluded that the LGH had the worst bed block in the nation.
The letter to the THS makes mention of the closure of the Mersey Community Hospital’s emergency department, which the doctors say led to a significant increase in presentations to the LGH.
The Mersey ED closed in April as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in the state’s North-West.
Ms O’Byrne said the crisis at the LGH was the result of the state government’s “deep budget cuts”.
“The registrars have also raised serious concerns about the LGH not being COVID-safe, warning overcrowding in the ED has made social distancing impossible and the negative pressure ward used to isolate suspected COVID-19 cases doesn’t work because of a broken fan,” she said.
“[Health Minister] Sarah Courtney needs to fix the chronic bed block and understaffing at the LGH before more patients die unnecessarily.”
Health Department secretary Kathrine Morgan-Wicks has been asked to consider the concerns raised in the letter from LGH doctors, Ms Courtney said.
“Our hardworking Launceston General Hospital staff do an outstanding job,” she said.
“I note the letter acknowledges a range of long-standing challenges, including cultural impacts on bed block, the need to ensure we are effectively using regional and private hospital beds and opportunities to invest in innovative care models.
Ms Courtney said the government had recruited hundreds of new staff at the LGH since 2014, adding that the LGH masterplan would set the hospital up for the future.
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