Westpac Rescue Helicopter at Lismore Base Hospital.
Westpac Rescue Helicopter at Lismore Base Hospital. Cathy Adams

Run of woes impact on Lismore Base

HEALTH authorities defended the reputation of Lismore Base Hospital after fresh allegations an infant's herniated obstructed bowel was treated with a sticky-taped teat from a baby's bottle stuck to his belly button.

The young mother anonymously shared the claims to national media where she alleged her son received "third world” treatment at the hospital before being taken to Lady Cliento Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

In a statement, the Northern NSW Local Health District said the confidential nature of the claim meant it was unable to provide confirmation of any complaint lodged about this matter.

Chief executive, Wayne Jones encouraged anyone with concerns about their treatment to contact the health district's Consumer Relations, Clinical Governance Unit to enable their case to be reviewed.

Mr Jones said: "Patients can also contact the Health Care Complaints Commission which independently investigates complaints regarding health practitioners and health organisations.”

Lismore paediatrician Chris Ingall said without knowledge of the facts about the matter he said it would be "impossible” to make comment.

Lismore Base Hospital.
Lismore Base Hospital. Trevor Mein

The anonymous allegations are the latest to plague the embattled hospital following a series of incidents that have been made public.

In particular, Coronial inquest findings two weeks ago into the death of Miriam Merten at the hospital's mental health unit in 2014 shocked the nation.

Overall, NNSWLHD chairman, Brian Pezzutti said he was confident in the care delivered at Lismore Base Hospital as well as the district's comprehensive governance practices.

"We are never going to be perfect but we try to get it right at a personal and clinical level,” Dr Pezzutti said.

Mr Pezzutti, aligned with Mr Jones, said they are in full support of the State Government's response to the inquest findings.

In general, Page MP Kevin Hogan said Lismore Base Hospital was a well-performing facility driven by what he argued were some of the best clinicians in Australia.

"We can be very proud of Lismore Base Hospital and we can be very proud of our staff,” Mr Hogan said.

In light of the Miriam Merten inquest and other incidents, Mr Hogan said it was important for hospitals to improve practice.

"Certainly there are things that need to happen that we need to try and correct.”

Lismore MP Thomas George was contacted for comment by The Northern Star and did not respond.

Do staffing levels need to be scrutinised?

Changing the models for hospital staffing for nurses could be one approach to minimise mistakes, according to the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association.

Lismore Base Hospital branch manager, Gil Wilson said "any incident needs us to look at staffing levels.”

Mr Wilson said the union has pushed for nurse to patient ratio staffing models for years for public hospitals in Northern NSW.

He said the model was much more effective and provides consistency as opposed to calculating hours to allocate among nurses in different wards.

"If we improve the number of nurses to the number of patients, we get better outcomes,” Mr Wilson said.

Recent upgrades such as the maternity unit Mr Wilson said were "wonderful but it's another massive footprint based on old staffing levels”.

"I think (the State Government) want to build beautiful wonderful hospitals ... but they have to serve a useful purpose, staffing adequate, safety of the community that's what hospitals are about,” Mr Wilson said.

Former Page MP Janelle Saffin agreed and said while good facilities were important, strong staffing is vital.

"There will always be a human factor, you can't get away from that,” Ms Saffin said.

"But if you don't have the right staffing level, they are stretched, they don't feel valued it's not a good situation

"I think if we have that ratio fixed it'll give us a big heads up.”

However, the staffing levels for doctors and specialists at Lismore Base is a different story.

For Dr Ingall, he said the staffing of doctors and specialists at the hospital was "excellent”.

Federal Member for Page, Kevin Hogan, Federal Minister for Health Susan Ley, NSW Premier Mike Baird,  NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner and member for Lismore Thomas George officially opening Stage 3A of the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment.
Federal Member for Page, Kevin Hogan, Federal Minister for Health Susan Ley, NSW Premier Mike Baird, NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner and member for Lismore Thomas George officially opening Stage 3A of the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment. Claudia Jambor

'Lets fix the whole hospital'

Mr Wilson said fixing the hospital must be a holistic approach by countering upgrades to front-end services such as the emergency department right with adequate provision of beds in the ward.

The hospital has experienced a chronic shortage of beds which has clogged up the new emergency department and increased the risk to patients, according Dr Ingall.

He said while the hospital has retained its specialist services, he hoped funding would be allocated to extra beds in the Stage 3B Lismore Base upgrade in the upcoming State Government budget.

Adequate bedding and waiting rooms was criticised at the emergency department of Ballina District Hospital in January.

"Immediate improvements" to seating arrangements were made by the LHD at Ballina hospital's emergency department waiting room after a patient was photographed lying on a footpath.

Emergency transportation issues surfaced in March when Coorabell resident Paul Rea, who arrived at Byron Central Hospital was suffering a stroke, was told to drive himself to John Flynn Hospital on the Gold Coast.

Mr Jones said the situation wasn't ideal despite Mr Rea being given the green light by medical staff to travel to John Flynn Private Hospital via private transport.

Maintaining morale in hospitals

Mr Wilson said these recent incidents and others do take their toll on the doctors and nurses at Lismore Base Hospital and around the district.

"99% of the (nurses and doctors) had northing to do with any of these (incidents),” he said.

"Every nurse who walks into this place wants to do the best job they can.”

He said the nurses in particular were tight-knit at Lismore Base Hospital with a culture of support entrenched in their practice.

Above all, Mr Wilson said morale was upheld among staff by watching patients make a full recovery was the biggest boost”.