In “what couldn’t have been a worse time”, Canberra Hospital has passed its latest accreditation with flying colours.
The results set a markedly different tone from three years ago when an interim accreditation report failed the hospital on 33 of 208 core criteria.
Two criteria had been ranked as extreme risk and six as high.
In an email sent to all staff, Canberra Health Services CEO Dave Peffer said issues of leadership and governance, decision making and a variety of patient safety risks had featured heavily in the 2018 report.
The report found safety had been put at risk by major delays in reviewing several suicides, the state of the kitchen and high incidents of Legionella.
But ultimately, the Canberra Hospital had managed to turn things around in a three-month period and was re-accredited.
In the wake of the 2018 report, ACT Health was split into two directorates, creating Canberra Health Services.
It had been hoped this split would address issues relating to governance.
Today, Mr Pefffer welcomed the results of the accreditation, acknowledging just how difficult the circumstances facing the hospital were, from COVID-19 to workforce shortages and an early influenza season.
“It could not have been a worse scenario for us,” he said.
As an example of just how much havoc the pandemic has wreaked on the hospital’s operations, 18,000 sick and lost work days due to COVID-19 have been reported across CHS in the last three months alone.
“In some cases, this has been extremely short notice because classes and schools have switched to remote learning,” he said.
“We’re also seeing an early peak in demand for care relating to influenza and other respiratory illnesses and extremely high demand in paediatrics.
“So, to have 11 experts come in and comb over our facilities, talk to our patients and team members and verify the services we are providing are high-quality and safe – it just doesn’t get any better.”
Those tangible challenges – like workforce shortages and long wait times for services like emergency departments – are ongoing.
Mr Peffer, who was appointed CEO in December last year after serving as interim CEO for over a year, has not shied away from acknowledging the challenges facing the organisation.
Cultural issues relating to bullying, in particular, have long plagued the Territory’s public health system.
He’s previously said staff will be shown the door if they do not commit to changing patterns of behaviour, including bullying and harassment.
He said the latest result shows that those wheels of cultural change have begun to turn.
“The big-ticket item here is culture. If you’ve got a good culture, you’ve got a supportive, learning environment and one where people feel safe and want to contribute to the quality of the care we provide,” he said.
“Removing people who don’t live the values and aren’t willing to commit to our culture and values is a small part of it, but a lot of it is due to promoting the positive side of cultural turnaround and developing good management and leadership behaviours.”
That’s not to say that cultural challenges don’t remain.
A law firm has recently been engaged to investigate allegations of misconduct within the hospital’s cardiology department.
Mr Peffer said there are other investigations of the nature underway but wouldn’t comment further on their nature.
He stressed these investigations were only affecting small numbers of CHS’s 8500-strong workforce.
“We’re keen to get to the heart of these sometimes challenging workplace behaviours, but we do have teams that have taken great leaps forward,” he said.
“We want to focus on those teams which are doing well and apply their ‘secret sauce’ to others where more troublesome behaviours might be on display.”
Canberra Hospital will be required to undergo its next accreditation process in three years’ time.