Our hospital in dire straits
LISMORE Base Hospital has been bursting at the seams since at least July, figures obtained by The Northern Star reveal.
The figures show there was little to no space on the wards for much of the time between July 9 and August 17, with "average" ward occupancy rates ranging between 90% and 97%.
The new figures come as community group Our Health launches a new campaign to have 100 new beds brought into the hospital.
Group head Marshall Fittler said the 100-bed figure was based on the 2006 Clinical Services Plan, which mapped out the extra ward space required under the hospital's Stage Three redevelopment.
The beds were even more urgently needed now, taking into account another six years of population growth for the region along with increased patient loads created by the new cancer unit and the Richmond Clinic psychiatric unit.
Both units have been completed since the 2006 plan was done and bringing people suffering a broad array of medical complaints on top of the illnesses that bring them to the specialist units.
Under plans announced by NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner this year, Lismore Base Hospital will get a new $80 million emergency department providing state-of-the-art facilities and more beds.
Three quarters of the money for the work is coming from the Commonwealth, delivered as part of the final round of the Health and Hospitals fund, while the NSW Government will cover $20 million of the cost.
However, the new department will be away from its location on the original Stage Three plans - avoiding the need to demolish Crawford House, the health service's aging administration building.
It remains unclear how the balance of the Stage Three redevelopment, which was to include new wards, new operating theatres, a rooftop helipad and, possibly new training areas, fits with the new plan.
When announcing the new emergency department in May, Ms Skinner said her government had no timeline or funding available for the project.
The new emergency department is expected to provide 28 beds.
However, Mr Fittler said Our Health feared the new department would end up just as badly overloaded as the existing 14-bed department because of a lack of space on the wards for patients to move to once they had been triaged.
That meant there would continue to be a lack of beds for new emergency cases arriving at the hospital.
Meanwhile, people who had already been triaged would remain in emergency beds instead of being moved to the appropriate wards, where staff were equipped and used to dealing with their conditions.
Mr Fittler said the need for more beds at the base was being compounded by the loss of beds from satellite hospitals, in particular Bonalbo (four beds) and Coraki (up to 14 beds) along with the after-hours closure of Bonalbo emergency department.
"It (the new emergency department) is not going to fix the situation at all," Mr Fittler said.
"It's like they're giving us a vehicle but they won't provide the fuel to run it."
The figures obtained by The Star show the hospital is already under intense stress, particularly over winter when illnesses in the community traditionally peak.
Today The Northern Star launches a new campaign, urging NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to provide at least 100 new beds to Lismore Base Hospital.
As Our Health head Marshall Fittler explains in the story above, the new beds are essential, not only to allow space for the current patient load, but also to ensure the North Coast community benefits properly from its new emergency department.
Without the extra beds, the new emergency department will be just as crowded as the existing one because, like now, there will be no space on the wards to place people who have been through the emergency triage process.
Our Health is planning a petition urging the NSW Government to give Lismore Base Hospital the 100 extra beds. The Northern Star would also urge readers to contact Ms Skinner directly by post or by email. Letters may be sent to The Hon. Jillian Skinner, MP,
Level 31 Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney NSW 2000, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to (02) 9228 5877.
Anyone wishing to support their campaign may also contact The Northern Star to share their stories about the hospital with the community.