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Head of surgery confronts Snelling live on air

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The head of surgery at Modbury Hospital has taken the extraordinary step of confronting Health Minister Jack Snelling on live radio about the State Government’s hospital reform program.

Dr Scott Watkin phoned in to ABC 891 radio this morning to express his concerns about plans to transfer emergency surgery services from Modbury Hospital to the Lyell McEwen hospital.

Snelling said the logic behind separating elective surgery at Modbury and emergency surgery at the Lyell McEwen stemmed from interstate experience. He said in other states dedicated elective surgery centres dramatically reducing waiting lists, so that “you’re not going to be displaced by someone coming in who needs emergency surgery”.

Senior doctors will be on call at both hospitals 24 hours a day under the plans, however patients requiring emergency surgery will  be transferred to the Lyell McEwen.

Watkin told the program that any senior surgeon who attends a patient needing emergency surgery at Modbury Hospital under the plans will “be no better than a first aider”, because, “he will turn up and be frustrated by the inability to do anything other than put pressure on the bleeding and put him in an ambulance and send them elsewhere, to a team who has no familiar recognition of the patient”.

“They have to start from scratch,” Watkin said.

“In the past, we’ve had a terrible time transferring patients.

“We spend many, many hours – not waiting for an ambulance, but waiting for another hospital to accept our patient.

“Four or five hours would be a good time.”

Watkin said that, currently, emergency surgery is available to Modbury Hospital patients within half an hour.

“Under the … ‘transforming health’ arrangement there will be no emergency surgery at Modbury,” he said.

“If you have appendicitis you need to go elsewhere.

“The big things are certainly out of the question.”

Snelling argued that transferring emergency surgery to Lyell McEwen meant that services would be available where they’re needed most.

“(Under ‘transforming health’) we’ll have senior surgeons covering both the Lyell McEwen and Modbury Hospital after hours, which is something we don’t have to a large extent at the moment,” Snelling said.

“Surgical beds will go to the Lyell McEwen for emergency surgery because that’s where they’ll be needed.

“It will be as good a service as (patients have now).

“Of course it’s not going to be the same.

“There will be a senior doctor, a senior surgeon on call who can come and assess you and decide what’s the best thing to do with you.

“You’ll be taken to the most appropriate place, whether that’s at Modbury, the Lyell McEwen or Flinders.”

Sonja Latzel, from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, expressed concern that the elective surgery beds to be provided at Modbury Hospital would be limited to 23-hour stays.

“(Patients) can stay overnight but they must leave the next day,” Latzel told the ABC.

“If (there is) something that will keep them in hospital longer, the understanding of the surgeons is that they will need transfer to another hospital.

“There’s no access after-hours for those patients to go back to theatre for an emergency.”

She said that ambulances often will not priorities inter-hospital patient transfers, which can take hours.

“The average transfer time is significant – hours, we’re talking about,” she said.

“Ambulances are being called to homes, where people have no access to a doctor.

“They cannot prioritise the patients that are in hospital with doctors and nurses around them over a patient who is at home who could be having a heart attack or dying.

“Inter-hospital transfer is not a high priority for the ambulance service.”

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