THE closure of 12 beds at Shoalhaven Hospital for at least six months is likely to result in local patients being transferred to Wollongong for treatment, according to the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association.
Acting manager for the association’s organising team Linda Griffiths warned the decision would leave the hospital exposed if there was a sudden need for beds.
“The decision to close beds for six months means staff will be redeployed to other areas of the hospital.
“The danger is that when you need to open beds in a hurry there won’t be the staff you need. This means members of the Shoalhaven community needing treatment will have to go to Wollongong,” Ms Griffiths said.
The Illawarra Shoalhaven Health Service said the decision to close the so-called “surge” beds was made to improve efficiency as demand for them eased off after winter.
While Ms Griffiths acknowledged there were seasonal fluctuations in demand for beds, she said the decision to shut Medical Ward B was not based on efficiency but on addressing health service budget overruns.
“What we are saying is that for communities the size of Nowra to take out 12 medical beds is a huge reduction in services. We are also very concerned that we have had no guarantee they will open again. Six months is a long time.”
Ms Griffiths accused the health service of failing to consult with nursing staff before making the decision.
“The ward closed on a Friday and we only found out about it on the Saturday. This was very disappointing.”
The association’s comments follow warnings from Opposition health spokesman Andrew McDonald that the closure would strain an already stressed emergency department as it approached its busiest time of year when the Shoalhaven had an influx of holiday-makers.
Meanwhile, Kiama MP Gareth Ward defended the bed closures.
“The seasonal adjustments made to Medical Ward B have no bearing on the treatment of patients in the emergency department at Shoalhaven Hospital. If any patient has any experience to the contrary, I want to know about it,” he said.
“I’m advised that since these changes, there has been no incidence of bed block at the hospital. Should a surge ward be required – these will be opened.
“I understand staff at the hospital have been involved in the process and this consultation is ongoing. Any staff member who believes they have not been adequately consulted should contact me.
“Critical patients are routinely transferred to Wollongong and other referral hospitals for specialist treatment. This represents best care for patients, particularly those needing urgent attention.
“Hospitals across the state routinely manage their resources to meet demand and the Local Health District assures me that they will continue to monitor access and demand and enhance available beds at the hospital during the summer months if it is necessary.
“Hospital resources must be managed in a manner that best suits patient needs. I want to see hospital resources used in a way that best utilises resources to deliver the best possible services.”