Ballina Hospital, emergency entry. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Ballina Hospital, emergency entry. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

Lives at risk in Ballina District Hospital ‘chaos’

PATIENTS' lives are being put at risk due to cost cutting measures which left the Ballina District Hospital with no doctor in its emergency department for five nights, staff have said.

The situation has become so critical three staff members have risked their jobs to contact The Northern Star to voice their concerns.

They say the staffing "crisis" not only impacts on patients' health, but also has dire consequences for the safety of hospital staff who risk being assaulted by mentally ill or drug affected patients.

"The issue has come about because district management refuse to pay an extra $200 per shift to get locum doctors and seem to not care about any patients," one staff member, who sought anonymity, said.

"Ballina District Hospital has also of course been busy with the school holidays, so not having a doctor overnight has created chaos.

"Nursing staff are also refusing to work if the situation continues through fear of losing their registration."

The staff member said not having a doctor placed increased pressure on ambulance services with a number of patients being forced to drive to Lismore Base Hospital to seek treatment instead.

Northern NSW Local Health District director of operations Lynne Weir refuted the claims, saying the night doctor "called in sick" on Friday and no replacement could be found for the following four nights.

"Unfortunately, last Friday afternoon at Ballina Hospital the night doctor called in sick and while this shift was covered, on the subsequent nights of Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, despite all avenues being explored to put a locum in place, the NNSW LHD was unsuccessful in finding a replacement doctor," she said.

"NNSW LHD is actively recruiting permanent medical staff to work in the ED across the Richmond/Clarence Health Service Group in order to ensure a more stable workforce."

Another staff member said the Ballina Hospital was in "crisis" with no doctor cover for the emergency department and the 60-plus inpatients for the last five nights.

"Have admin learnt nothing from a HCCC event?," the staff member said.

"The nurses are putting their registration on the line and downright praying nothing goes pear-shaped every night that there is no doctor."

A third staff member said critical care patients were being dropped off and had to wait two hours for another ambulance to be booked to take them to Lismore.

"It's just shocking," the staff member said.

"The population of Ballina is nearly 12,000 more than Lismore yet they have four doctors and eight nurses."

NSW Ambulance zone manager, Wayne McKenna, said paramedics usually took lower risk patients to Ballina Hospital while more severe cases were taken to Lismore.

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