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3 June, 2021

Staffing shortage turns heads

The rural health inquiry hearing travelled to Wellington and Dubbo last week, with a few Gilgandra Shire locals taking up the mic.

By Emily Middleton

Reports of shortages, lack of staff, and lack of access to life saving equipment were shared over the few days, with a range of voices from across regional NSW.

Sheree Staggs, a member of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, and mother in-law Joan Staggs, who presented as an independent witness, appeared at the Wellington hearing.

“The partner I was presenting with spoke of the lack of security at their hospital and having to look after her own child when he was injured as she was the only registered nurse on. So I think that really turned their heads of what it’s like to be a nurse in a rural setting,” said Sheree.

The staffing shortage was the main issue that kept coming up in the hearings.

“I don’t know if we are going to get anywhere, but you can’t help but do what you can,” said Joan.

Joan originally passed her concerns onto the hospital board and the local member of parliament, in January 2019. At the time she had a friend who was chronically ill and visited on a daily basis, so was able to see the ins and outs of the hospital staffing crisis from a patient’s perspective.

“There were occasions when there were only two staff on duty to care for the needs of the acute and emergency patients. On the weekend (when there is no staff in the reception area) the door was locked on arrival as a security measure. Understandably, staff are concerned for their safety as they are busy attending to the wellbeing of patients and attending to emergency patients. Surely, increasing the numbers of staff on general ward duties as well as rostering in an efficient manner would reduce the unnecessary stress on our valued health professionals,” Joan explained at the hearing.

At the Dubbo hearing last Wednesday, May 19, it was reported that a man died in hospital after being treated almost exclusively online.

Narromine resident Vicki Kearines, spoke at the hearing about her father who she lost in January this year. After being admitted to hospital on Boxing Day 2020, Mrs Kearines’ father was only visited by a junior doctor once. Mrs Kearines recalled a laptop with a doctor on the screen brought into the room, and the family having to remain there while her father struggled to understand the virtual service.

Mrs Kearines said the community feels they’re “not worthy of a face” in the hospital, while Narromine GP Dr Neil McCarthy said it’s “sad state of affairs” and that he can’t emphasise enough the gravity of the situation.

Joan Staggs reiterated this in her statement at the Wellington hearing, claiming that “telehealth has a place in health care, however, is no substitute for doctors, appropriately trained nurses and caring staff. Statistics point to the fact that we are extremely disadvantaged in rural so there needs to be an effort to improve the wellbeing of individuals in times of medical needs.”

Hearings will continue across regional and rural NSW in the coming months.

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