Hospital a ‘disaster’

Warragul Hospital has declared a Code Yellow.

By Shelby Brooks

Warragul Hospital is experiencing an “internal disaster”, with a Code Yellow called due to staff shortages.

West Gippsland Healthcare Group chief executive Dan Weeks said the Code Yellow was called on Wednesday 25 May, with the prediction it will be in place for at least a couple of weeks.

“A combination of sick leave and staff vacancies, plus a number of Covid-19 patients and an outbreak in our onsite aged care facility meant that we couldn’t operate as business as usual,“ he told the Gazette.

“We have closed six beds in the medical ward and had three closed in the surgical ward but they are now open. We also restricted visitors in aged care too.

“With hospital beds closed, it makes it harder to clear patients in emergency department, leading to delays in off-loading ambulances, longer stays in ED and longer wait times to be seen. We have however, continued with elective surgery.“

Mr Weeks said although code yellows (which signals ’internal disaster’) have been called before, this was the first time it was called hospital wide in relation to staffing.

Mr Weeks said he was working with Ambulance Victoria, the Deparment of Health and Gippsland hospitals during the difficult time.

“We are asking the community to consider seeing their GP or using Nurse on Call or GP on call in non-emergency situations, but always use 000 in an emergency,“ he said.

“We have asked GPs to consider who they are sending to ED, and to advise patients that it may result in long wait times if it isn’t critical.

“[The community] need to be patient as wait times, particularly in the ED are likely to be much longer than usual for non-critical conditions.“

Mr Weeks said staff were working double and extra shifts to try and keep up.

“The staff have been amazing, as they have right throughout the pandemic,“ he said.

“Despite being tired and worn out from two years of Covid-19, we have staff working double shifts and extra shifts to do what they can to help. They do us proud.

“Be tolerant and understanding if things seem to be taking longer than normal. Take the time to let staff know they appreciate their efforts.“

The Victorian opposition has promised to build a second new regional hospital if it wins the November state election and will call on the newly installed Albanese government to chip in.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy on Friday 3 June announced plans to invest $400 million into the new $600 million facility in Warragul, replacing the existing West Gippsland Hospital.

The Liberals and Nationals would request $200 million from the federal government to make up the funding shortfall.

Despite having no assurance, and Labor ending nine years of coalition rule in Canberra, Mr Guy is confident he can secure federal support for the project.

“That is something that we would negotiate with the federal government over time,“ he told reporters in Warragul.

“Both the coalition federal government and the Labor party now in government have made those commitments to other states. We would hope that they would do this facility as well, and I couldn’t see why they wouldn’t.“

A master plan has been drawn up for the hospital but there is no formal timeline for construction.

The facility would boast 200 beds and be built on a separate site to the current hospital using government-owned land.

West Gippsland’s health services are soaking up huge demand from the region’s growing population on top of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, Mr Guy said.

“This is not out of want, this is out of need,“ he said.

Mr Weeks said WGHG was “delighted“ by the news.

“We would love for every party to support a new hospital,“ he told the Gazette.

“All the planning has been done and all of the reasons why have been presented, yet for the fifth time now the government has rejected it in the 2022 state budget.

“Warragul-Drouin is now the 43rd largest population in the country and will shortly overtake 42nd Traralgon-Morwell. We have one of the highest growth projections outside of Melbourne and many people who should be treated locally have to travel for care.“

Mr Weeks said the board purchased land in 2007 for a new hospital but 15 years later they were “still with no clear future or any idea of time frame“.

“A new hospital would allow us to treat people close to where they live. It would also help us attract new staff, having modern, fit for purpose facilities,“ Mr Weeks said.

Premier Daniel Andrews declined to say whether his government would match the opposition’s latest hospital pledge.

“Promises from people who cut health and closed hospitals aren’t worth much,“ he said in Bendigo.

Health is shaping as a key battleground for the November 26 election, as the Andrews government seeks a third consecutive term.

A $12 billion funding boost ffor the sector was unveiled in the May state budget but issues persist as COVID-19 continues to sideline health workers and place pressure on the ailing system.

Mr Andrews has spoken with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet to push for an extension of the 50-50 hospital funding split between states and the Commonwealth, which is due to expire in September.

“Covid-19 catch-up will not be done by September. It’s a longer-term project than that,“ he said.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to see that funding maintained.“

-With AAP