15 March 2022

Letter reveals 'dangerous' staff shortages at Yass Hospital over Christmas period

| Max O'Driscoll
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Yass District Hospital. Photo: Supplied.

For multiple days Yass District Hospital’s senior clinician was a Sydney paramedic, according to a letter sent to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s office signed by Yass health care workers.

In the letter, workers revealed no registered nurse was available for the night shifts of 24 and 25 December. A locum doctor, an enrolled nurse and a health and security assistant staffed the hospital during this time.

It suggested the trio were left to cover the hospital “with no orientation to the facility or knowledge of where emergency equipment was located or how to use it”. It also highlighted the local community was not notified at any stage.

The letter revealed in the days that followed, the hospital’s senior clinician was a paramedic brought in from Sydney who had “no triage capacity or knowledge of the hospital” and was accompanied by an enrolled nurse.

“This is unprecedented and left the community of Yass in a dangerous situation had they required emergency assistance during this time,” the letter read.

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The letter stated staffing levels at the hospital were “unsustainable” and placed the general community “at great risk of harm”. It asserted the hospital couldn’t cover staff seeking short-term leave due to a limited casual staff pool, meaning hospital employees were forced to work “excessive overtime” or, at times, leave shifts short-staffed.

Clinical staff at the hospital have continued to raise this concern with the Southern NSW Local Health District but didn’t believe they’d been offered “appropriate solutions” to the issue.

“Clinicians are already exhausted and burnt out and we are very concerned about how the hospital will cope, and continue to operate safely, in the coming months,” the letter read.

“Staff from Yass are very concerned about how this hospital will continue to be staffed. We call upon you to immediately address this staffing crisis and to confirm how the ED will be staffed over the coming months, to ensure that safe and appropriate care can be provided to the patients of Yass and also to ensure the health and safety of your current clinical workforce who are at breaking point.”

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In a statement responding to the letter, the Southern NSW Local Health District suggested that COVID-19 contributed to staff shortages over the Christmas period. The statement described it as a “quiet time” at Yass Hospital and highlighted there was no interruption to services throughout December and January.

“Patient and staff safety is at the forefront of every decision we make. We are meeting with the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association weekly to discuss initiatives to address workforce challenges and to ensure staff have the support they need,” the statement read.

The statement revealed that the district welcomed 73 nursing graduates in January and received a budget increase exceeding $18 million to invest in local health.

“There are more nurses and midwives in NSW public hospitals than at any other time in history. Since the start of the pandemic, NSW Health has engaged in forward planning with clinicians to ensure our hospitals have capacity to care for COVID-19 patients and meet workforce surges if required,” the statement read.

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Federal Member for Eden Monaro Kristy McBain said she was made aware of the incident during the February nurse’s strike. She spoke to her shock and disappointment upon hearing the news.

“Our healthcare workers have been overworked and undervalued for a long time now and the ongoing pressure on our staff is not sustainable,” Ms McBain said.

“What’s clear to me is that rural and regional healthcare hasn’t been a priority for far too long now and this needs to change.

“The Yass region is continuing to grow and we need to make sure our facilities and services grow with it. We can’t keep seeing the government leave our regional communities behind.”

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Capital Retro11:04 am 14 Mar 22

It’s been a bit like that at TCH this weekend.

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