Loss of doctor left nurses in the lurch
Community angered over hospital’s reliance on telehealth
Gulgong Multi-Purpose Service (MPS), 300 km northwest of Sydney, went without a doctor for more than four months this year after negotiations to renew his contract broke down.
News reports said Western NSW Local Health District wanted to reduce the doctor’s pay and make greater use of telehealth.
Nurses working two per shift were left to step into the breach.
With no medical support other than telehealth, they often had to choose whether to treat an acute patient in the emergency department, or answer a buzzer on the ward.
“We aren’t mind readers so we didn’t know whether the ward patient was lying in their own mess or whether they were lying on the floor,” said Gulgong’s NSWNMA branch president, Julie Hines.
MPS staff-to-patient ratios only apply to sub-acute beds, she said.
In September, 66-year-old Dawn Trevitt died at the MPS while being treated via telehealth, the ABC reported.
Her death prompted an outcry in the town and a petition to rehire the doctor received more than 3000 signatures.
The LHD agreed to rehire him in October.
Julie said nurses felt the brunt of the community’s anger following Mrs Trevitt’s death.
“Some people took it out on us because we are the only health staff they see. I went into a bakery with my nursing shirt on and I was verbally abused by customers and people behind the counter about when am I going to get a doctor for the MPS.”
Julie wrote to NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, after hearing him say he understood the problems facing rural health services.
“I told him to come and talk to us nurses if he really wanted to understand the issues.”
Julie says Gulgong nurses are fortunate compared to many of their rural colleagues.
“We have a brand new MPS, our general manager is very supportive of the nurses and our NUM comes onto the floor and works with us whenever possible.
“Dr Shannon Nott, Rural Health Director of Medical Services, came to see us and ask what he could do to help ease the pressure on us.”
Julie took the initiative to form a NSWNMA branch at Gulgong this year.
“We need the backing of the union and we will happily support other branches in dealing with their issues,” she said.