It's bad for the health

DOCTORS and nurses have slammed a proposal to close unoccupied beds at Maclean District Hospital.

The North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) announced last week it would expand its surge bed strategy to hospitals in Maclean, Murwillumbah and Lismore, following what it called a successful pilot program at Grafton Base and Ballina hospitals.

Under the surge bed policy, a number of beds are closed and only staffed on an 'as needs' basis to respond to peaks in patient demand.

While the health service said the strategy provided spare capacity during busy periods, at least one Maclean doctor, along with the NSW Nurses' Federation, disagree with the decision.

Dr Anil Thakur has worked at Maclean District Hospital for 24 years. He said the hospital was almost always busy and could not afford to close any beds.

“Beds are full all the time, if anything we need more beds,” he said.

“This is just a new political term for reducing beds.”

He said if three beds were counted as empty at midnight, it was guaranteed they would be full again the next day.

Dr Thakur said before he moved to Maclean, there were 62 beds at the hospital.

When he started, there were 48 beds and now there are 42. He said morale was low among staff at Maclean District Hospital.

“This is nothing new, we've been through it before, no-one can do anything it about it,” he said.

The NCAHS spokesperson said the service had rolled out alternatives to admission services, such as hospital-in-the-home, so milder and chronic patients could be treated at home or in the outpatient setting, allowing some hospital beds to be used as surge beds. While the NCAHS called the Grafton pilot a success, NSW Nurses' Federation secretary Brett Holmes countered that it had been a failure and should not be expanded.

He said nurses were so over-stretched during the pilot that palliative care patients had to be admitted as in-patients.

“This not only exacerbated the bed and staffing issues but more importantly, highlighted that there were no 'out-of-hospital services' available to support the out-of-hospital model.”

NSW Nurses' Federation North Coast organiser Jo-Anne McKeogh said the health service did not dig deep enough during its review of the pilot program at Ballina and Grafton hospitals.

Dr Thakur said if the out-of-hospital model was introduced at Maclean to free up surge beds, the budget would not cover the amount of patients requiring in-home care.

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