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Modbury Hospital unsafe: doctors

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Modbury Hospital is unsafe, chronically overcrowded and “grossly understaffed”, doctors say.

Doctors told a South Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Association (SASMOA) inspector last month that overcrowding had led to several serious risks to patient and staff safety.

“It is hard when there is constant overcrowding … saturation overwhelms us here, it gets completely out of control,” said one doctor.

“There is a real fear that we will miss a patient, patients may come with a problem but then other issues will present and there is no one paying attention because of the overcrowding in the emergency department,” said another.

“A patient put in the corridor may be stable and then their situation deteriorates and there is a real concern we won’t be made aware of the situation until it becomes very serious.”

Another doctor told SASMOA inspector Bernadette Mulholland: “We have had the situation where there are 48 patients in the Emergency Department and only 24 cubicles. This is not safe.”

Some medical officers also said they were not familiar with evacuation or fire safety plans for the 174-bed hospital.

One doctor expressed concerns about radiation, because a resuscitation door was hung the wrong way around.

SA Health told InDaily in a statement that all Modbury Hospital staff are required to complete annual fire safety training as part of their responsibilities, and that: “No issues have been raised with hospital management regarding the resuscitation door and there is no evidence of any risk. However we will work with staff to address their concerns.”

Several doctors expressed concern about a lack of nurses to treat patients safely during regular periods of overcrowding at the hospital’s emergency department.

“The emergency department is always short of nurses, and this makes the area very unsafe, as there is not enough staff to look after the patients,” said one doctor.

“There are patients waiting in the corridors and no nursing staff to look after them; medical attention drops to a minimum for these patients,” said another.

SA Health told InDaily nursing numbers at the hospital are determined by an agreement with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA.

“If patient numbers go up, then so does the number of nurses we have working on the wards and the ED,” a spokesperson said.

“The doctors and nurses at Modbury Hospital work extremely hard, and we’ve been working with them to make sure their safety, and the safety of our patients, is always prioritised.”

Doctors also claimed the safety of mental health patients was at risk due to a lack of specialist mental health assistance after 5pm.

Many doctors said they did not know the identity of the hospital’s occupational health and safety officer.

They pinned much of the blame for the crisis on hospital management, who they accused of:

“… our request for assistance is not taken seriously by NALHN (Northern Adelaide Local Health Network) management and it is easier for them to leave the patients in the emergency department,” one doctor said.

“I have not seen management at all in the emergency department when help is needed.”

Another doctor said: “There are always ambulances waiting to unload; management say it is not ambulance ramping, but given the delays, it is.”

Modbury Hospital doctors claimed management had failed to respond to adverse incident reports made using the Safety Learning System (SLS).

“When I do put in SLSs, it is a closed process and nothing happens,” one doctor said.

“There is never an outcome and the problem raised in the SLS is rarely attended to by those authorised to do so,” another doctor said.

“Normally they come back to the person who submitted the SLS to provide the resolution.”

Doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital complained of the same problem last month.

Several of the latest claims made by doctors at Modbury Hospital mirror the claims made by doctors from other overcrowded SA hospitals over the past three months.

READ MORE: Inquiry into RAH ‘overcrowding’ deaths

Modbury Hospital doctors said severe overcrowding was causing doctors to assess patients in public waiting rooms – making patients unwilling to answer specific questions about their condition.

“The patient’s privacy is breached, patients do not want to give answers to out questions because of the lack of privacy and there is a real difficulty trying to assess the patients in this environment,” said one doctor.

“This is when the safety issues arise.”

Doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital also said patients were having to be assessed in public waiting rooms last month.

Modbury Hospital doctors cited increased psychiatric admissions and elderly patients waiting for aged care placement in hospital beds as reasons for a beds shortage.

In August, doctors at the Lyell McEwin Hospital told SASMOA mental health patients were being regularly confined to emergency department cubicles for between four and five days because of a lack of available acute psychiatric beds.

InDaily revealed five percent of the state’s hospital beds were occupied by elderly patients waiting for aged care placement last month.

As with each of the other hospitals SASMOA has inspected over the past several months, the doctors’ union has accused Modbury Hospital management of breaching several elements of the Work Health and Safety Act by failing to provide a safe environment for staff.

SASMOA has referred the matter to SafeWork SA.

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