Lismore Base Hospital upgrade could take 10 years

DOCTORS fear capacity at Lismore Base Hospital's emergency department will quickly go from 'critical' to 'dangerous' if Stage 3 of the hospital's redevelopment is not brought forward.

The State Government has put Stage 3 - which includes a new emergency department and up to 100 more beds for the hospital - in its 10-year redevelopment plan for Lismore Base. But the hospital's Medical Staff Council says it needs to be fast-tracked and put in the four-year plan.

The current scheduling means work on Stage 3 may not begin until 2018, and definitely won't begin within the next four years.

Group spokesman Dr Chris Ingall said if the work was not brought forward, it would increase pressure on the already struggling emergency department, pushing capacity to a dangerous level.

"It will mean we will have an inadequate facility to cope with what is going to be thrown at us," Dr Ingall said. "Already there are peak times when there are no beds in emergency and there are ambulances outside waiting with patients still on board. You don't have to be an Einstein to realise we need Stage 3 completed sooner rather than later."

Dr Ingall said the emergency department was between 90 per cent and 100 per cent full at all times.

But safety guidelines stated 85 per cent capacity was the upper limit.

On a visit yesterday to the rehabilitation unit being built at Ballina District Hospital, NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher would not say whether Stage 3 could be fast-tracked.

"It's a priority, but we have to balance that against competing priorities across the State," she said.

"It's not always about bigger and better ... we do need greater frontline response to take some of the pressure of the emergency departments, and that is about providing better access to GPs and treating people in their homes where appropriate.

"There's a lot of work to be done, but that is what's exciting; that we have a Commonwealth Government willing to work with the states and territories to improve health services and balance with demand into the future."

Dr Ingall said that once stages 1 and 2 of the Base Hospital redevelopment were fully operational there would be a lot more patients using the hospital, increasing the need for Stage 3 to be completed.

These included cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy at the hospital's new cancer unit, who would stay in town during their treatment and would 'no doubt need to use the emergency department when they suffered side effects' from the treatment.

"It will mean some patients aren't being triaged properly," Dr Ingall said.

"It just increases the risk, and we believe it is going to be to a dangerous level."

Dr Ingall said it also placed extra pressure on staff.

"We applaud the doctors and nurses working in the emergency department, who do a terrific job making a safe environment out of an unsafe situation," he said.

North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford said the community should focus on the work being done at the hospital.

Mr Crawford said the cardiac catheterisation lab had been brought forward from Stage 3 to Stage 2, but wouldn't say whether the rest of Stage 3 should be brought forward.

"We advise the Department of Health regularly about the pressures and issues on the North Coast, and the solutions," he said.

"But it's our job to do that internally, without grandstanding to the media.

"I'm not going to say what we say to the department, but the community can be assured we do try to address the issues the health services face on the North Coast."

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