Dr Jason Tsung the head of Orthopaedic surgery at Tweed and Murwillumbah Hospitals
Dr Jason Tsung the head of Orthopaedic surgery at Tweed and Murwillumbah Hospitals SCOTT POWICK

‘It will fall apart’: Tweed Hospital bone surgeon

PATIENTS in agony needing a joint replacement are waiting up to five months to get on the 12-month surgery waiting list, the head of orthopedic surgery at Tweed Hospital says.

Dr Jason Tsung has called for an urgent injection of funds to his department to stop what he says is its imminent collapse under the weight of a growing elective waiting list due to the increasing number of emergency cases.

Dr Tsung said due to the lack of surgery facilities at the hospital, patients who could have waited nearly 18 months for a joint replacement were increasingly being bumped off the list for trauma cases.

"It is not uncommon I get people who are crying in pain asking me to do something because they can't leave the bedroom," he said.

"An older person can very well be housebound and is a much higher burden to their family and carers."

He said that even if the State Government came up with the full $140 million funding tomorrow for an upgraded hospital, his department was already beyond capacity.

"We're struggling now and there's been no mention of how we're going to overcome our difficulties until we get a new hospital.

"The hospital would have fallen apart much sooner if it wasn't for the dedication of all the staff trying to get through as much work as we can without compromising patient safety."

The NSW Health surgery benchmark for joint replacement is within 12 months.

Dr Tsung said until now his department had met that, but they were now struggling due to the lack of operating space.

He said they were creating bottlenecks in other areas of the hospital not monitored by NSW Health in order to meet the benchmark.

The orthopedics department has its own elective surgery unit, but it has to share an emergency surgery unit with other departments.

What urgent cases can't be fitted into that emergency surgery, take place in the orthopedics elective surgery unit.

That means elective patients are often sent home because their slot has been taken up by a trauma case.

"People are very understanding that we're under pressure and they often don't complain but it's not ideal," Dr Tsung said.

"They've left it so long to build us a new hospital we're pretty much stuck with what we've got for another few years minimum."

"When it does fall apart it will probably fall apart pretty spectacularly I'm afraid."

Northern NSW Local Health District executive director Bernadette Loughnane said the hospital's management was in the process of making "significant changes" to the way the theatres were used as a result of the growing demands on the orthopedic department.

"The theatre management committee is reviewing options to improve access to surgery for local patients, in collaboration with our surgical teams," Ms Loughnane said.

"Management acknowledge that critical lifesaving emergency surgery is the priority and as such influences our ability to perform elective orthopaedic cases.

"It is highly regrettable that elective surgeries sometimes need to reschedule.

"I continue to be impressed with the willingness and ingenuity of the orthopedic surgeons at Tweed Hospital to put the patient's needs first."

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