Doctors threatento stop surgery

By ZOE SATHERLEY

DOCTORS at the Lismore Base Hospital are threatening to stop doing surgery.

So concerned are they about dangerous and outdated equipment being used, they have written to NSW Health Minister, Morris Iemma, and area health administrator, Chris Crawford. They want their safety concerns immediately addressed.

Dr David Sillar, urologist and chairman of the Richmond Valley Surgical Services Committee, cited a list of urgently required medical equipment which doctors have been trying to get since 2000.

The list includes vital monitors, cameras and operating tables. Some operating tables are so old they no longer comply with medical standards. He believes possible consequences includes the death of a patient.

Nine senior doctors at Lismore Base Hospital have banded together ? on behalf of the Medical Staff Council (MSC) ? to speak out about a health system they say is failing our citizens and putting lives at risk.

In the endoscopy ward, for example, staff are no longer prepared to use the old equipment, as the risk of malfunction is high, and patients run the risk of receiving burns from the equipment, Dr Sillar said.

Cameras are also inadequate to meet procedural standards, and it is feared adequate cleaning is not being carried out due to pressure on staff caused by heavy workloads.

Some operating tables are almost 30 years old, and carry an inherent risk of failure. There is a lack of interest and funding for a surgical Clinical Nurse Educator, which would enable staff training to be kept up-to-date.

In a recent letter to Minister Iemma and Mr Crawford, Dr Sillar wrote: "It is at a point where, as clinicians and advocates for our patients, we should consider whether it is ethical to continue to operate in the Richmond Valley Hospitals (ie: Lismore Base), without either first informing our patients of the poor state of the basic surgical and anaesthetic equipment, or just not operating at all and sending the patients to the nearest public hospital that does have 'safe' equipment."

Dr William James, kidney specialist and MSC secretary, said he believed the health service was failing the local community.

"Our vascular and cancer outcomes are clearly inferior to those in other areas. Patient mortality rates show we don't do as well as other areas," he said.

"I believe this has a direct correlation to the fact that sick people on surgery waiting lists are having their operations cancelled, sometimes repeatedly."

Dr Austin Curtin, a senior surgeon, said he had even been forced to cancel 'elective' breast cancer surgery because of bed shortages.

Patients in pain waiting for gall stone surgery are also regularly cancelled, he said.

"For cancer patients, every day counts," he said. "Doctors are often faced with having to decide who to put on their surgery list and these are hard decisions to make."

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