DOCTORS fear the opening of a new inpatient area at the over-stretched Tweed Hospital may be delayed several months until funding for new staff comes through in the new financial year.
Their concerns were raised as they welcomed the relocation of a temporary "module” to the rear carpark of the hospital, which is being converted into a new inpatient area.
The temporary structure will act as a stop-gap measure until the new greenfield hospital opens in five years' time, as the hospital struggles to cope with growing demand.
Dr Mike Lindley-Jones, who heads the hospital's intensive care unit and co-chairs the Tweed Hospital Medical Staff Council, said while he was pleased to see work had begun on the new space, he was concerned it would not be ready for use until mid next year.
His comments followed those he made recently when he described the hospital as "absolutely full” and in a state of "chaos” as it struggled to cope with patient numbers over winter.
"It is all very well having the physical infrastructure and that is a good start, but it needs to be properly staffed,” Dr Lindley-Jones said.
"The State Government needs to come to the party in providing that staffing.
"My understanding about these modules is they won't be able to come online until the new financial year which is July 2018 and that is because of funding staff for them. The funding needs to be provided so they can be staffed: there is no point in having a ward with no nurses.”
Dr Lindley-Jones said recruitment for the new area should be starting now.
"It is positive that things are moving forward but it is incredibly slow,” he said.
"The fact we won't be able to staff it until next July... at the moment we are already struggling, it is too long.”
Northern NSW Local Health District CEO Wayne Jones said the modules, part of a $48 million boost to the facility while the Tweed awaits its new hospital, wouldn't be fully operational until April or May.
But he said this was due to construction timelines, rather than staffing.
"(Dr Lindley-Jones) is right in the sense... the modules won't be online until about April or May because of the work that's required,” Mr Jones said.
He said a "workforce plan” would be implemented to properly staff the modules.
Tweed MP Geoff Provest said there would "absolutely” be extra staff available when the modules are completed.
"It'll be April next year by the time they wire them up and fit them out,” he said.
Mr Jones acknowledged concerns about the "chaotic” state of the hospital, but said things had been settling down to average levels after what was a burdensome flu season on the Tweed and across the state.
"This winter was the most challenging winter we've ever experienced,” he said.
"The response from the staff was nothing short of amazing. What we do know is we'll need more beds than we've currently got. There's no debating that.”