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Nursing shortage: Southland Hospital on brink of collapse, cancer care advocate says

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Melissa Vining with husband Blair who died of bowel cancer in 2019. Photo/RNZ

By RNZ

Cancer care advocate Melissa Vining said Southland Hospital was on the verge of collapse.

She has received a large number of messages and staff raising concerns and has been told that the hospital’s pediatric assessment unit has been closed for three weeks now – and is not expected to reopen for at least three others. In addition, patients from the Lakes and Gore districts destined for Southland Hospital have been diverted to Dunedin due to a lack of staff.

A message Vining received from a member of staff at Southland Hospital said ‘staff are falling apart, breaking down every shift, despite continually giving their all to keep patients safe’ .

“We are in a serious personnel crisis,” the staffer told Vining.

“Our medical patients from Lakes and Gore need to be redirected to Dunedin due to a shortage of medical staff and last week we had no orthopedic consultants on call as they were short – so we cannot admit any patients high-risk orthopedics requiring surgery They were all to be sent to Dunedin.

“Service beds also continue to be closed due to nursing shortages.”

Te Whatu Ora Southern confirmed that the pediatric assessment unit had been closed “intermittently” for the past three weeks and some care had been postponed.

“I receive a number of concerns from the SDHB [Southern District Health Board] patients and staff in the abysmal state of the healthcare system,” Vining said in a social media post.

“A number of staff at Southland Hospital are breaking every shift due to unsafe staffing levels, they are doing everything they can to keep patients safe. Andrew Little ensures the safety of staff at our hospitals! Patients and staff deserve better.”

Vining’s late husband Blair died in 2019 after a year-long battle with bowel cancer.

The 39-year-old father of two from Southland was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the end of 2018 and told he had just weeks to live.

Due to delays, he was not even able to get an appointment with an oncologist through the public sector.

After seeking treatment in the private sector, Vining started a petition calling for the creation of a national cancer agency and an overhaul of cancer care nationwide.

He collected over 140,000 signatures and many of his hopes for reform were covered by the government’s cancer action plan.

Vining said cancer services in the south were still failing patients.

He had been told “clinically dangerous wait times in oncology, some patients are missing valuable survival time and suffering treatable pain.”

A spokesperson for Te Whatu Ora confirmed some of Vining’s claims.

“The Pediatric Assessment Unit (PAU) is generally open 10am to 10pm, Monday to Friday. The unit has been closed intermittently for three weeks due to RMO staffing shortages. October,” the spokesperson said. said.

“Children who would normally be assessed in PAU are assessed in the ward or emergency department. The pediatric team will travel to where the child is.

“Previously a small number of patients from Lakes and Gore District Hospital who would normally be transferred to Southland Hospital were transferred directly to Dunedin Hospital. This was due to the lack of staff at the RMO in the medical team at Southland Hospital.

“Most patients received orthopedic assessment and surgery as usual within hours at Southland Hospital. Last week, two patients were transferred to Dunedin by helicopter out of hours for medical care. urgent orthopedic services as Southland Hospital was unable to provide out-of-hours orthopedic service.”

Te Whatu Ora Southern was working to balance the health needs of patients with the welfare of staff, the spokesperson said.

“We are postponing some planned care outpatient clinics and some theater cases, using locums where they are able to support our clinical staff (including on-call) and coordinating acute care locations across the district.

“The well-being of our staff is a very high priority at Te Whatu Ora Southern. We know that staff work above and beyond every day. We greatly appreciate our staff’s dedication, commitment and support to our community.”

Staff had been disrupted by Covid-19 and other winter illnesses which led to staff absences and the organization was “actively recruiting to fill vacancies”, the spokesperson said.

“Healthcare is a 24/7/365 service, and we are constantly balancing the needs and safety of our patients while ensuring our staff get a well-deserved break.”