Pressure on beds at Base 'has not eased'

By Alex Easton alex.easton@northernstar.com.au OVERCROWDING at Lismore Base Hospital has not eased since a health expert last year declared the hospital worse than Sydney's infamous Royal North Shore, leaked figures reveal.

The figures undermine claims by North Coast Area Health Service boss Chris Crawford that a new program that treats some patients in their homes had freed up space for controversial new 'surge beds' at the hospital.

The figures show most Base wards running above 90 per cent of capacity in January and February, with the critical surgical and medical wards all operating around the 95 per cent mark well beyond the 85 per cent doctors say is needed to ensure the safe running of hospitals.

The figures mimic those from the same period last year, which x Australasian College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Andrew Singer last October said set the Lismore Base Hospital up as worse than Royal North Shore Hospital.

At the time, Dr Singer said the Base Hospital's average capacity of around 95 per cent in its surgical and medical wards was similar to the figures of Royal North Shore, which triggered a state-wide inquiry after a mother was left to have a miscarriage in a toilet, but with the difference that the Sydney hospital had the option of closing its doors and directing new patients to other hospitals when it was full.

Mr Crawford was not available for comment yesterday, but has previously said the area health service began work last March to ease pressure on its hospitals through the 'hospital in the home' program.

Under the program, up to 8000 patients across the North Coast would be treated in their homes by an expanded community care team, freeing an average of 12 beds in each of 14 Northern Rivers hospitals, including Lismore Base.

That would allow the health service to transform six beds in each of those hospitals 12 in the case of Lismore into 'surge beds' which would be held in reserve for times of high demand.

Last month Mr Crawford said the health service had invested about $4 million into building the 'hospital in the home' program to make way for the surge beds.

"We are putting some significant money into this," Mr Crawford said at the time. "It's not petty cash and we're not asking the community health staff to do more."

In late January Mr Crawford told The Star the surge bed plan required the 'hospital in the home' program to care for patients for whom beds would not have been available.

He also said, in the same interview, that the groundwork had already been laid and the health service was ready to launch the surge beds.

A spokesperson for the health service said Mr Crawford had just finished a tour of the 14 hospitals discussing the two programs with staff and clinicians.

"The input received at those consultative meetings is currently being assessed. In the light of the input received, the strategies will be modified to take account of this feedback.

"Once further consultation has taken place with the NSW Nurses Association, the NCAHS will release a statement outlining the way forward to the alternative to admission and surge bed strategy."



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