Doubt has been shed on Canberra Hospital’s ability to recruit and retain enough staff for its obstetrics and gynaecology unit to allow it to keep its training accreditation.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RANZCOG) gave the unit a six-month provisional accreditation in June amid concerns about the training, education and responsibilities of trainees in the department.
A now-available August update on staffing, which included Canberra Health Services (CHS) responses to concerns raised, revealed more staff have left the unit since it was given provisional status.
It outlined the hospital wants to increase the number of permanent staff by at least 16.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff by early February 2024.
However, only 2.1 FTE had been recruited by August, while another two FTE staff have either left or reduced their hours with the unit since June.
Shadow Health Minister Leanne Castley said this was a “grave situation” for the unit, which has already been cautioned about staff turnover and burnout in the department.
“This Labor-Greens Government has failed to improve workplace conditions for our frontline health workforce for years and, as a result, staff are striking, experiencing burnout and leaving,” she said.
“This update does not ease my concerns that CHS is in danger of losing its training accreditation for the Obstetrics and Gynaecology unit altogether.”
The report also showed Canberra Hospital failed to meet five of the six standards set by RANZCOG during its reaccreditation visit in June, including workplace culture and safe working hours, as well as engaging with the hospital accreditation process.
It only partially met the standards for the appointment and support of training supervisors.
“It is clear that Canberra Health Services is struggling to retain staff and that the government has failed to improve conditions and initiatives in line with other jurisdictions,” Ms Castley said.
She also expressed her concerns the hospital had only just implemented initiatives for staff in the unit to work “standard rostered working hours” to increase rest days and ensure appropriately paid hours, with a new roster of four 10-hour days per roster.
“It is extremely disappointing that it takes a scathing report from RANZCOG for the minister to finally address basic workplace conditions such as appropriate rostering for staff in such a demanding specialty,” Ms Castley said.
“The government need to address retention and recruitment initiatives so that clinical and training needs are not continuously impacted.”
The CHS is also working on moving away from a 72-hour on-call roster for consultants.
Within the report, CHS had outlined “significant efforts” to address current and future workforce levels, with a new gynaecology oncology surgeon employed as a visiting medical officer (VMO) through the Division of Surgery and additional administrative resources.
A new medical lead was scheduled to begin in October in the Fetal Medicine Unit, with staff numbers also reportedly increasing after that department also lost its training accreditation. This decision is expected to be reviewed at RANZCOG’s November meeting.
“A number of current staff have increased their FTE to allocate time for education, training and supervision,” CHS’s response in the report noted.
Specific times have been put aside for training and education, with 20 per cent non-clinical time set aside for all obstetric and gynaecology consultant staff and a regular flexible session (wherever possible) for those in supervision roles.
Work is also underway to have all staff complete either in-person Respectful Workplaces or online Emotional Intelligence and Compassion workshops by June 2024 in an attempt to address the “fractious” workplace culture identified by RANZCOG.
“[The] division of WYC [Women, Youth and Children] are starting to implement Blue Knot trauma and awareness training in October. This is core training in building trauma awareness, managing stress outcomes … and trauma-responsive leadership,” CHS’s response noted.
“The WYC division is considering direct recruitment of a psychologist for 1-2 days per week to provide regular support to the junior and senior medical officers within the division.”
CHS has also received approval to recruit a Chief Medical Wellness Officer, with recruitment underway.
Both CHS and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith have previously emphasised that issues with training accreditation do not impact people’s access to care at the hospital.
Both were contacted for further comment.