FIVE months after the long awaited opening of the new Bulli Hospital facility, a chronic doctor shortage is leaving the Urgent Care Centre (UCC) without a doctor for days on end and sending patients to other facilities.
The state of the art $54 million Bulli Hospital opened in August 2020 and offers an UCC and a specialist Aged Care Centre.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District describe the hospital’s UCC as a facility that treats minor health issues and injuries, staffed by “experienced medical officers and a registered nurse” between 7am and 10pm, seven days per week.
State MP for Keira Ryan Park says he is deeply concerned the Centre is regularly without a doctor on staff. The NSW Shadow Minister for Health says locals are reporting they are being turned away as there is no doctor available at the hospital.
Mr Park said a local patient was recently told to attend Corrimal Medical Centre or Wollongong Hospital to seek treatment for abdominal pain. The patient was also informed by hospital staff that no doctor would be available at the Bulli facility the following day.
Mr Park said since that time the community had reported the UCC was closed periodically due to staff shortages.
“People have the right to expect to speak with a doctor when attending a brand new $54 million state of the art hospital” Mr Park said.
“It is not good enough that a doctor is not available for patients at any hospital in NSW. What is the point of a shiny new building if there are no doctors in them?”
Mr Park said people are angry and disappointed the facility has not delivered on the promise to provide reliable care to the community as the facility is not adequately staffed. Mr Park added the community was losing confidence in the facility and there was a real risk people may stop using it in the future.
“The community fought hard for this facility and were promised an Urgent Care Centre they could attend without the need for an appointment or referral.
“It is simply unacceptable people are being turned away and told there won’t be a doctor available that day or the following day.
“This isn’t a one off occurrence, it has been happening regularly. I raised this as an issue in October last year and now here we are in January and the problem still exists.
“I am deeply concerned the Bulli Hospital Urgent Primary Care Centre is being set up to fail through inadequate resourcing. Ensuring this staffing issue is resolved needs to be the highest priority” he said.
Mr Park has wrote to the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Heath District Board seeking urgent intervention to ensure a doctor is available at the Centre during the advertised opening hours.
The board have told Mr Park in a reply letter that it is having “great difficulty in attracting appropriate staff to that service, despite offering rates of pay that are often particularly generous”.
The board have asked for an urgent “review of the purpose and the staffing of this facility”. In the interim, Health will consider a range measures by which it can ensure “levels of appropriate staffing, pending a long term resolution of this matter”.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Chief Executive, Margot Mains said that patients presenting to the UCC are triaged by a registered nurse on duty, who determines the treatment plan or referral to an appropriate service.
“Patients may be redirected to Wollongong Hospital or their nearest Medical Centre if a doctor is unavailable and this is a safe option for the patient,” Ms Mains said.
“Hospital management makes every effort to fill all shifts, however as with many workplaces, school holidays and long weekends are particularly popular for leave.
“The District acknowledges the challenges in attracting appropriate staff to the UCC and an external review will be conducted into the staffing of this facility so that a long-term resolution of this matter can be achieved.”
In a statement Ms Mains said the 2019-20 budget for Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District was $998 million, an increase of $40 million on the previous year’s budget.
The new Bulli Hospital opened following funding by the NSW Government of $37.1 million, including $14.5 million from the Restart Illawarra Infrastructure Fund using proceeds from the long-term lease of Port Kembla port. Between mid-2012 and mid-2020 the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District increased its workforce by an additional 1231 full time equivalent staff – an increase of 26.4 per cent including 214 more doctors, 507 more nurses and midwives, and 161 more allied health staff.
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