THE DOORS to Grafton Base Hospital's surgical ward were shut and padlocked last Friday, with beds closed for nearly 24 hours.
A North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) spokesperson confirmed the surgical ward was closed on Friday afternoon until noon on Saturday.
The spokesperson said the procedure was due to low activity and reduced occupancy.
“Two longer-stay patients were transferred to the medical/surgical ward on level two on Friday afternoon and the surgical nursing staff were deployed to care for these patients on level two,” the spokesperson said.
The surgical ward was reopened on Saturday due to an increase in demand.
The spokesperson said the procedure was consistent with normal bed management practice, where beds at all hospitals were opened and closed as needed in response to patient demand.
South Grafton doctor and visiting medical officer Dr Hugh Calvey was working at the hospital on Saturday.
He agreed with the NCAHS and said the practice was a common management procedure. However, he said one reason the ward had to be reopened was because the air-conditioning in another ward had broken and was still not fixed by the weekend. With high temperatures forecast for last Saturday, he said management decided patients could not stay without air-conditioning and so reopened the surgical ward.
Dr Calvey said he did not know whether the air-conditioning had been fixed since the weekend. He could not confirm whether any lack of attention to the broken air-conditioning was the result of the NCAHS's unpaid bills. The NCAHS did not respond to an enquiry about the air-conditioning late yesterday.
Dr Calvey said it was not unreasonable to close beds during quiet periods although he conceded the sight of a padlock on the ward's doors may have concerned patients.
The Daily Examiner received a phone call from one worried onlooker, who was concerned the practice of closing the ward, which usually only occurs over holiday periods, would become a regular arrangement.
Another onlooker who spoke to The Daily Examiner said the practice of shifting patients around in wards at the hospital was concerning.