THE Lismore man who survived a horror car crash near Whiporie is a psychiatric registrar at the Adult Mental Health Unit at Lismore Base Hospital, The Northern Star can reveal.
Sources close to the hospital told the Star he was Chris Stephenson, aged 35, an accredited psychiatric training scheme registrar.
Dr Stephenson is in a stable condition in the hospital after being injured in the collision on the Summerland Way on Sunday night, in which a father and son in the other vehicle died.
His injuries are further bad news for the troubled mental health unit, which has been unable to fill its required complement of registrars.
The 40-bed clinic was rebuilt and opened to much fanfare in May 2008 at a cost of $38 million, but sources say there has been no increase in funding for the expanded service.
The clinic is meant to be staffed by seven registrars, a number it concedes is ‘adequate for the safe running of the unit’.
A North Coast Area Health Services (NCAHS) spokesperson said in a statement that the unit had funding for seven positions, including two in the child and adolescent unit. But it admitted that ‘currently not all of the registrar positions are filled’.
“Two of the registrar positions are rotational training positions and are provided through the training network from South East Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service. The training network has been unable to fill all the registrar positions for this term,” it said.
It would not disclose the exact extent of the shortfall, but it is believed to be at least half the required number.
One NCAHS worker said the mental health unit, formerly known as the Richmond Clinic, was not a ‘happy ship’.
Staff shortages across the board in the North Coast health area have been described as ‘chronic’ by the NSW nurses association.
Organiser Joanne McKew said the union had not received any specific representation from branch officials about the Lismore mental health facility, she ‘would not be at all surprised if the clinic had severe staff shortages’.
The problem in mental health was the same as other branches of health care in the region, she said, and was fuelled by the administration’s dependence on ‘fly-in, fly-out’ personnel, including senior staff such as psychiatrists and intensive care doctors.
There was very significant remuneration for such visiting medical officers, Ms McKew said, despite it being an expensive option that had no benefit for the community.
A health insider said Australia would experience a glut of new doctors in 2012, when about 2000 are expected to graduate, compared with the 600 of the past few years. But in the meantime, all regional and rural health areas were ‘in trouble’, he said.
Ballina Crash Investigation Unit police will not speak to Dr Stephenson until he is discharged from hospital.
They have yet to work out what may have caused the accident and have appealed for witnesses to call them on 02 6681 8699.