Murwillumbah Hospital.
Murwillumbah Hospital. File photo

Hot spot at Murwillumbah Hospital

WHILST the majority of us were happily celebrating the festive season in air-conditioned comfort, the staff and patients in the High Dependency Unit and Medical Ward at Murwillumbah Hospital had little to celebrate. Whilst temperatures ranged between the high thirties and forty one degrees the air-conditioning system broke down twice placing the lives of vulnerable patients at risk. It is astounding that between Christmas Eve and New Year (a total of nine days) the governing body for the hospital could not find one air-conditioning repair person available to rectify the problem. It seems the problem took until January 2, 2014 to be addressed. The following day the system broke down again. People, who queried the lack of air-conditioning during heat wave conditions, where told that the repair person was waiting for a part before repairs could be completed.

Needless to say, as the temperatures soared outside, inside the building temperatures also rose. The steps taken to reduce heat inside the wards included: closing all windows, drawing blinds to block the sun, turning off lights and putting on pedestal fans (which had to be borrowed from other hospitals). A family member of a patient in the High Dependency unit brought a thermometer into the unit and recorded a thirty five degree temperature, which placed the patient's health at a very high risk of deteriorating. The person I care for was chronically ill, on a fluid restriction due to kidney failure and deteriorated in these extreme conditions. It was heart wrenching to watch patients suffering under these unnecessary circumstances.

Dedicated nursing and support staff were hot, exhausted and very tired working in such difficult conditions. They had to place wet face washers around their necks to keep cool as they worked tirelessly to ensure all patients were well hydrated. They also gave patients wet face washers to put on their heads or around their necks to keep cool. Other patients were placed in wheel chairs by family and friends and taken down to the ground floor where a total of eight DeLongi air-conditioners kept the administrative area well air-conditioned. Catering staff did not even have an ice making machine in the kitchen area, so they were required to go to the surgical ward downstairs to obtain ice, then return to the Medical and High Dependency Wards to distribute ice to distressed staff and patients to prevent dehydration.

To the hard-working, dedicated nursing and support staff, who are still going over and above the call of duty to care for the critically ill during these energy zapping, extreme conditions, I say a big thank you. I have never seen such compassionate, dedicated, understanding staff in any other hospital I have visited.

The questions that arise as a result of this incident include:

• Who is the governing body managing the health and welfare of both staff and patients at this hospital?
• How can such life-threatening circumstances for patients exist in this day and age?
• Does this constitute a breach of Occupational Health and Safety regulations for staff, who are on duty during this period?
• Heat wave conditions were predicted well in advance by the weather bureau so was there a breach of duty of care by the hospital's governing body when repairs were not carried out as a matter of urgency?
• If an inside temperature of thirty five degrees was recorded and most medications have to be stored below thirty degrees then how effective are the medications (held in the ward and given to patients) after being impacted by the extreme heat?
• Was the use of wet face washers breaching hygiene standards in the hospital and did it increase the risk of disease for both staff and patients?
• What is the governing body's code of ethics and duty of care at this hospital and was it implemented to prevent this life threatening situation occurring?

I am still very concerned for both patients and staff at the hospital. The air-conditioning is still not repaired. I was told tonight when I visited the hospital that two generators have been brought in, as an attempt to rectify the problem. It seems it is only a temporary measure and only operates the air-conditioning intermittently. At 8.00 am this morning it was freezing in the medical ward for a short while. At 5.30pm there was still no air-conditioning.

My hope is that the authorities that monitor the health and welfare of patients and staff in hospitals will read this letter and make the governing body of Murwillumbah Hospital accountable for its lack of action to prevent this life threatening situation for both patients and staff. I find it astounding that the situation has dragged on for over two weeks. One can only hope that the health and welfare of patients and staff in Murwillumbah Hospital will become a priority.

Yours faithfully,

Dian Nichols.


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