GP fearful for patient safety

IT IS ‘only a matter of time’ before a patient at the Ballina District Hospital dies or has their health ‘severely compromised’ because doctors are overworked and exhausted, a local GP has warned.

The hospital is staffed by local general practitioners, many of whom also run their own practices.

Dr Colin Macdonald has worked at the hospital for almost 22 years, including several years as chairman of the Visiting Medical Officer Council.

He said the staffing situation had been unacceptable for a long time and that it was only getting worse.

“Nothing has ever been done to correct it,” he said. “The North Coast Area Health Service has known about these problems for years.”

Dr Macdonald has now written to the NCAHS warning that GPs are taking on ‘extreme duties’ and being overworked, putting patients’ safety in jeopardy.

He says one doctor has been forced to take on more than 40 per cent of the hospital shifts over the next three months, while also running his own medical clinic and working on the emergency roster.

“It’s just crazy,” Dr Macdonald said.

“It’s only a matter of time before he makes a mistake.”

However, a spokeswoman for the NCAHS denied a single doctor had taken on such a high percentage of the work.

“Although one VMO does a greater share of the after hours on call, this does not equate to doing 40 per cent of the VMO work,” she said.

“This is because many patients in Ballina District Hospital remainunder the care of their own GP.”

The spokeswoman also said the ‘community can be assured of the high standard of clinical care they receive’ at the hospital.

“There is an establishment of 20 GP positions ... this is sufficient to meet the needs of Ballina District Hospital,” she said.

However, in his letter to the NCAHS, Dr Macdonald said the director of medical services and the chief executive, Chris Crawford, should be held partially responsible if there was a death or ‘adverse situation’ at Ballina hospital.

“Something needs to be done,” he wrote.

“Please don’t let this bad situation kill any of the locals and please work out a way of salvaging the Ballina Hospital inpatients service, since the alternative of sending inpatients elsewhere would cripple the NCAHS.”

“Please don’t let this bad situation kill any of the locals and please work out a way of salvaging the Ballina Hospital inpatients service”



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