Sarah Bell, of Sydney, with her leg in plaster outside Lismore Base Hospital.
Sarah Bell, of Sydney, with her leg in plaster outside Lismore Base Hospital. Brenden Allen

Long queues a sign of health system in crisis

SARAH BELL didn’t have the best Christmas this year – she spent most of it waiting in the emergency department of Lismore Base Hospital.

She arrived by ambulance at 1am with a broken left tibia and fibula.

Still covered in mud from her fall on the footpath, Ms Bell, who is visiting family in Lismore, was left on the ambulance gurney as she waited for a bed in the emergency ward. She then waited another eight hours for surgery.

It is a common story, according to the State Government’s own figures.

It found that almost a third of patients in September were not seen by a doctor in the required time frame.

About 15 per cent with ‘potentially life-threatening’ problems were not treated within 10 minutes. And a third of patients were not admitted within eight hours of receiving active treatment.

Of the 85 hospitals that provided figures, Lismore Base Hospital was the 17th worst.

Jillian Skinner, State Opposition health spokesperson, said the State’s hospitals were struggling.

“It is very concerning that 28 per cent of patients that attended the Lismore Base Hospital emergency department were not treated within the time most clinically appropriate for their condition,” she said.

“Lismore hospital staff do an amazing job coping with very sick patients, but the State Labor Government has failed to properly resource them with the equipment and beds needed to deliver the timely services patients need.”

North Coast Area Health Service acting chief executive, Stewart Dowrick, said there were ‘great demands on emergency department resources’.

“Our aim is to get patients to a ward in a reasonable time, whilst still receiving appropriate treatment,” he said.

John Bailey knows what it is like to be a patient in the emergency department. Yesterday he was waiting to be seen for a hernia.

When The Northern Star spoke to him, he had been waiting for an hour.

“I came in at 11am, but there have been people waiting for three hours,” he said.

On another occasion, Mr Bailey took his ill daughter to the emergency department because there were no medical clinics open.

“I brought one of my twin daughters in and had to wait four hours,” he said.

“It was a Saturday night, which is about the worst time to come in.”

The situation has led to renewed calls for a 24-hour medical centre for the Northern Rivers to ease the pressure on Lismore’s emergency department.

Lismore MP Thomas George said the emergency unit at the hospital should be upgraded.

“We have known about figures like these for a long time,” he said.

“It reinforces the need for the rebuilding of the emergency department. It needs to be done sooner rather than later. People’s lives are at risk.”

Mr George also said he would support a 24-hour medical clinic.

“Whatever needs to be done, whether it’s a 24-hour clinic or not, should be done. Money should not come into it when you’re talking about health care.

“At the moment, it’s clear Lismore Base Hospital can’t cope.”
Dr Andrew Binns, of the Goonellabah Medical Centre, said Lismore desperately needed more GPs.
“Over the weekend we saw 59 patients. That’s 59 people who didn’t go to the emergency ward,” he said. “We have to build up resources in the community for after-hours care. We needpeople, not a new building.”

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