NSW health crisis highlighted in the Illawarra
By Marg Perrott
WOLLONGONG — The crisis in the NSW health system was addressed at a meeting here on November 17 called by "nurses caring for the health of the Illawarra".
One hundred and twenty people heard from representatives of nurses working in Wollongong Hospital, Shellharbour Maternity, community health and mental health.
Kerrie Lickiss, Nurses Association representative from Wollongong Hospital, said its emergency department "is so often in crisis it's normal. When the discharge planner regularly visits A&E (Accident and Emergency), you know there's something wrong."
Patients were staying up to six days on emergency trolleys, never seeing a ward. Even the theatre recovery room was acting as a ward — patients having to put up with lights on 24 hours a day, constant noise and no shower facilities.
Forty-two beds have been lost, and the annual closing of theatres and elective surgery over the Christmas period will close another 30 just in time for the holiday casualty rush.
Community health nurses have been told to take holidays over the Christmas period, so patients discharged to make way for the Christmas rush will have even greater difficulty getting follow-up treatment.
Sally Quilter, of the Community Health Nurses Association, reported that although the total number of staff in community health is the same as 10 years ago, in 1990 60-70% of staff were generalist community nurses, whereas today only 38% are doing the hands-on work.
Hannah Dahlen, secretary of the NSW Midwives Association, spoke about the threatened closure of the Shellharbour Maternity Unit. "The real issue is that Wollongong Hospital has lost approximately 600 births to the Illawarra Private Hospital", she said.
"Shellharbour Hospital serves the area with the largest growth in the Illawarra, but has only 1% privately insured patients. So the doctors are not interested."
The average stay at Shellharbour was only 2.2 days — one of the shortest in NSW — which meant that patients often are pushed home before they are completely recovered.
Community early childhood nurses had waiting lists of two to five weeks, Dahlen and Quilter pointed out. The burden of care for new mothers and their babies is falling more and more on family and community members.
Federal government support for private health insurance companies at the expense of the public health system was highlighted by Brett Holmes, of the NSW Nurses Association.
A meeting of delegates of the association on November 16 had resolved "to give the NSW government three weeks to negotiate prior to launching a statewide campaign to get money to patient care services", he said.
Coronary patient David Creek reported that he had, so far, waited 276 days to get life-saving medical treatment. "At Prince Alfred Hospital they give you a blanket and pillow when you get there, and you have to hang on to them through your whole stay. I don't blame the doctors or nurses", he said. "I know who to blame — and that's Bob Carr."
The meeting resolved:
- to call on the minister for health to review the funding to the Illawarra Area Health Service, because of the disadvantaged nature of the Illawarra area;
- to endorse a delegation to meet with the minister to demand extra funding for Illawarra health services;
- to endorse a campaign to highlight the Illawarra's disadvantaged status in health funding.