TWEED Hospital's pediatrics director Dr David McMaster has added his voice to a campaign by senior clinicians to demand the State Government fund the hospital's expansion plan.
The expansion plan was presented to NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner by the Northern NSW Local Health District in December 2013 and called for an upgrade of the pediatrics ward by 2017, but has not been funded.
Dr McMaster said an urgent commitment to funding was needed to relieve the children's ward's unsafe overcrowding which contributed to increased infections, traumatised children and parents, and also caused bed blocks in other wards including emergency.
He said the current pediatrics department was stretched to the limit and could not streamline its systems any further to fulfil a recent directive by Ms Skinner.
This week, when the Tweed Daily News visited the ward as part of the Heal Our Hospital campaign, six spaces allocated for babies in the special care nursery held nine.
When the incubators are crowded, there is an increase in skin and respiratory infections and hospital antibiotic resistant infections from transferred babies of the Royal Brisbane or Mater Hospitals.
Nearby, in the children's ward, an operating theatre converted into four rooms, the beds are almost always full.
Since 2002 this ward has seen a 55% increase in patients, from 1134 admissions to 1759, into the same 12 beds.
As a result, adolescents with mental health problems could be in a bed next to a sick toddler, and with no isolation ward, children with measles, whooping cough and gastro were also in close contact.
"We have children with (cancer) oncology treatments here, whose main treatment is in Brisbane, but we will admit them here and they are immuno-suppressed because of the drugs they are on so they will very easily pick up infection," Dr McMaster said.
Because elective surgery patients take priority for beds so doctors can meet their national elective surgery waiting times, there's no room for admissions from other wards like emergency.
"I don't like the children spending the night in the emergency department," Dr McMaster said.
"They're exposed to all the adult things, the noise, the sound, I think it's traumatic for them and the parents."
Dr McMaster said an overhaul was overdue and until then mothers would be forced to separate from their babies.
"Unlike the Gold Coast (University Hospital), they (mothers) might have a baby who is three days old, and get told 'no you've got to go home because there is no space'," Dr McMaster said.
"It's very difficult, they should be with their babies," he said.
Dr McMasters slammed the NSW Government for not committing to 16 beds in the children's ward, by not committing to funding any of the three stages of the Tweed Hospital master redevelopment plan.
His concern has been echoed by other senior Tweed Hospital clinicians who since December 20 have underlined stresses to intensive care, emergency and orthopedics departments as part of a joint campaign with The Tweed Daily News.
This week Tweed MP Geoff Provest welcomed the effort.
"Such a campaign helps me in my work to lobby for increased funding from the NSW Government and the Northern NSW Local Health District Board," he said.
"The Minister is a strong supporter of the hospital and has said so repeatedly in Parliament.
"The Tweed is well represented on the Local Health District board, with five of the 13 members coming from our shire, yet it is fair to say decisions seem to favour Lismore more often than us.
"I'd like to see how board members take a Team Tweed approach in order to get a larger share of the pie."
Health will be a top election issue in March and Mr Provest is "hopeful" the Liberal and Nationals will announce "good news" for the hospital as the campaign unfolds.
But Tweed Labor candidate Ron Goodman criticised Mr Provest for not mentioning the hospital in parliament for three years.
" ... if elected, I will never stop fighting for resources for Tweed Hospital," he said.
NNSW LHD chair Dr Brian Pezzutti said the board would continue to work with the Health Ministry to progress Tweed's proposal.
PARENTS GRATEFUL FOR SPECIAL CARE
FROM the baby incubators to the heart monitors, virtually every piece of life-saving equipment in Tweed Hospital's special care nursery has been donated by charity, pediatric director Dr David McMaster says.
This inspired Casuarina parents Simon, 35, and Kimberley Aalders, 30, to ask for donations to the ward instead of gifts for their son Flynn's first birthday.
Born six weeks premature, Flynn spent two weeks in the nursery.
Mrs Aalders said she was shocked at the lack of resources at the hospital.
"What alerted me was how rundown the hospital was - the old chairs, the overflowing cupboards.
"And I don't know if I'm allowed to say this, but they were only supposed to fit six babies but they had more.
"To stay with Flynn they found me a bed but I had to move three times.
"They were feeding him through a tube, he was in a humidicrib, he was very jaundiced, he was on a breathing machine and I was breastfeeding every two to three hours.
"I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the machines because they kept my baby alive and I learnt then they were light on donations."
The Aalders family donated $400 to the nursery and praised clinicians for Flynn's full recovery.
"They were just so beautiful to us and we would give everything to them," Mrs Aalders said.
"For them to support us and to keep our baby alive meant so much."
YOU CAN HELP