Lismore Base Hospital is one of the major referral hospitals in the Northern NSW Local Health District.
Lismore Base Hospital is one of the major referral hospitals in the Northern NSW Local Health District. Marc Stapelberg

Health boss 'open and frank' about hospital challenges

MAJOR floods and a busy summer season made for a very challenging year for our hospitals across the Northern Rivers.

Northern NSW local health district chief executive Wayne Jones was "open and frank" with his staff about the challenges the service faced at the district's annual general meeting in Ballina on Wednesday.

He looked back at the pressures of the summer season earlier this year that resulted in roster improvements to avoid patients waiting outside emergency departments, as one patient did at Ballina District Hospital in January.

Mr Jones commended the district's more than 6000 staff for their dedication in trying times, especially during the floods. He paid tribute to one wardsman at Murwillumbah Hospital who worked and stayed at the hospital for three days as access to home was cut off.

The impact on community mental health had been significant, highlighting the district's post-flood support line, which remains operational nine months since the floods devastated the North Coast.

Mr Jones said the inquest into the death of mother of two Miriam Merten at Lismore Base Hospital back in 2014 led to a major state review into seclusion and restraints in mental health practice.

While there were challenges, there was positive growth across the health sector in the region.

Mr Jones noted the 2016/17 budget increase of 5.1 per cent on the previous financial year allowed the district to bolster its workforce by 106 additional, full-time staff from the Clarence Valley to the Queensland border.

Of those additional staff, 45 were new nurses deployed across the region, along with 20 doctors as well as 19 allied health professionals and 22 other staff.

This year's budget had also grown by 5.7% with a focus on increasing speciality staff such as mental health clinicians and diabetes nurses.

"What this budget increase means is that we have more people on the ground to do the work which ultimately provides more timely, effective care," Mr Jones said.

Patient satisfaction remained well above the state average, with the latest Bureau of Health Information data revealing 97.6% rated their experience as good or very good across the health district.

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