Nurses warn of $3.62m budget cut

By Alex Easton

NORTH Coast Area Health Service’s (NCAHS) controversial ‘surge bed’ plan will cut more than $3.6 million from its budget, the nurses’ union has warned.

NSW Nurses Association organisation manager Susan Pearce said the health service’s last budget had factored in savings of $333,000 for Lismore Base Hospital and $253,000 for each of the 13 North Coast hospitals slotted to have six beds converted to surge beds, making a combined saving of $3.62 million.

However, NCAHS chief executive Chris Crawford rejected the figure, saying it did not take into account more than $4.6 million extra funding the service had put into community-based health services.

The surge bed proposal began ruffling feathers last week when nurses complained of a plan to cut 84 beds from 14 North Coast hospitals by reserving them for times when demand spiked.

The surge beds hinge on a plan described by Mr Crawford as ‘Hospital in the Home’, where patients with some minor or chronic ailments would be treated at home, freeing up beds within the existing hospital system for seriously ill patients.

Lismore, Mullumbimby, Ballina, Casino, Murwillumbah, Grafton and Tweed Heads hospitals are among the 14 hospitals listed in the plan.

Mr Crawford said the Hospital in the Home program would free-up more beds than those the health service planned to convert to surge beds.

The program was expected to leave 12 beds spare in each of the hospitals listed to get six surge beds, meaning there would also be an increase in the number of generally available beds.

“We are putting some significant money into this,” Mr Crawford said.

“It’s not petty cash and we’re not asking the community health staff to do more.”

Ms Pearce said the Nurses Association’s North Coast members were still assessing a briefing document on the plan given to them by the health service last Friday.

However, she said the association still had significant concerns about it.

“We don’t think anything’s been addressed in the document,” she said.

“It’s putting patients into a community setting when there’s just not the appropriate resources to cope with the extra demand.

“We’ve said all along that Hospital in the Home isn’t new. This model’s been around and been attempted for years and years.”

Ms Pearce pointed out the over-crowding and resource issues plaguing North Coast hospitals were experienced across NSW.

“It’s a problem everywhere and if you could solve that problem you’d be a millionaire, but none of this stuff is simple.”

Mr Crawford said the health service was committing the resources needed to make the plan work, but he could understand the Nurses Association would want to see the fine detail on those resources.



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