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Major hospital's broken air-con risks surgery chaos: doctors


A broken air conditioner at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital that caused hundreds of surgical procedures to be postponed earlier this year is still not fixed – and doctors are warning of a repeat of the chaos as Adelaide’s temperatures begin to rise.

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But SA Health says the system is currently being “upgraded” and that the department is confident it will be up and running in time for summer.

Patients requiring emergency surgery had to be transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and about 100 elective surgeries had to be postponed when the system broke down in March.

During the three-day period of unusually humid, hot weather, patients arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital from country South Australia, including cancer patients, only to be told their surgery has been cancelled, or postponed, because of the malfunctioning system.

South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association president Dr David Pope told InDaily SA Health risks the same scenario if the problem is not fixed soon.

“It really depends on whether we get humid weather – if that happens again, then exactly the same problem will emerge,” said Pope.

“The operating theatres will be shut down.

“Everyone accepts that it’s a problem, and it needs to be fixed, so it’s quite a mystery why it hasn’t been.”

Air conditioners are important in surgical theatres because inadequate airflow can raise the risk of infections during surgery to an unacceptably high level.

A spokesperson for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons told InDaily this morning: “Reduced airflow in operating theatres impacts upon many types of surgery procedures and is a significant concern for infection control and patient safety.”

“We understand that SA Health are working hard to resolve this issue, and we trust they will be able to do so in a timely and effective manner.

“Coming in to the summer months it is vital that we have an reliable air-conditioning system, so that we don’t face the sorts of problems that we did last year.

A spokesperson for SA Health said that the air-conditioning system in the operating theatres at hospital was “currently being upgraded so it also has the ability to dehumidify the air”.

“This will ensure the issue experienced earlier this year, in which the system could not remove enough humidity from the operating theatres, is not repeated.”

Bureau of Meteorology senior climatologist Peter Webb told InDaily there was a slightly higher than average risk of humid days early next year because of warmer-than-average expected sea temperatures to Adelaide’s northeast.

“We certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of some hot, humid weather in summer, and in the second half of summer [in particular],” he said.

“It would be reasonable to expect some hot and humid days.”

However, he said the early part of the coming summer season is likely to be cooler than usual.


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