Opening hours at the Mersey Community Hospital Emergency Department have been further cut back as the Tasmanian Health Service grapplings with staffing shortages.
The ED has traditionally been open 24/7 but those hours were cut to 8am to 10pm following the North-West coronavirus outbreak.
That will be further reduced to 8am to 6pm from Monday, with patients needing emergency care redirected to the North West Regional Hospital or Launceston General Hospital.
Minister for Health Sarah Courtney said the ED hours had to be altered “due to impacts on the THS’s ability to source appropriate locum coverage caused by the national coronavirus situation”.
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“The majority of locums who staff the MCH’s emergency department are from interstate. Due to current quarantine requirements and travel restrictions, finding locums to be able to staff the emergency department has become extremely difficult,” she said.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, and I acknowledge that this will likely cause some anxiety within the local community.
“Unfortunately, the pressure placed on locum resources nationally is out of the Tasmanian Health Service’s control.”
Ms Courtney said it was “imperative” services were only provided “where appropriate staff levels are available”.
She said the Department of Health secretary and Chief Medical Officer have been “directly engaging with local medical and nursing leadership to explore all options to avoid having to reduce hours at the MCH ED”.
“However no safe viable alternatives were able to be determined,” she said.
“I want to assure the community that the government and the THS remain committed to providing safe services for the North-West region.
“As soon as we are able to safely staff the Mersey ED for a longer time we will not hesitate to increase the opening hours again. I remain committed to returning the Mersey ED to a 24 hours service as soon as we are safely able to staff it.”
DOCTORS ‘AT BREAKING POINT’
The move was welcomed by the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Medical Association, whose president Helen McArdle said “doctors in the North-West are at breaking point trying to keep both Emergency Departments open”.
“Doctors are going beyond the call of duty covering as many extra rosters as possible, but in the end, something had to give,” she said.
“Hospitals risked losing doctors from burnout and ED services at both Mersey and Burnie risked being unsafe, without a change in hours.
It is just not possible to keep staffing all the rosters without access to locums or more staff.
Dr McArdle said she had written to the government on Tuesday to express these concerns.
“We also welcome the commitment to expand permanent staffing to the EDs, which will enable services to return to normal in time,” she said.
Ms Courtney said she wanted to thank THS staff for their “extraordinary efforts”.
“They have been going above and beyond for a long time now and it is important that we support them to provide the best possible care to their community,” she said.
“We will also be working with Ambulance Tasmania to ensure there is appropriate support available to the region after-hours, including aeromedical support.”