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MPs call for more resources, staff

Tuesday, 10th September, 2019

Barwon MP Roy Butler Barwon MP Roy Butler

By Callum Marshall

Local state MP Roy Butler and NSW Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park have called for greater resources and staffing in the state’s rural and regional hospitals following shocking revelations about Broken Hill Hospital in ABC’s Four Corners program.

The revelations aired in last night’s program highlighted how the hospital’s failures in assessment, staffing issues and lack of resources led to local teenager Alex Braes’ death in 2017.

Alex’s death would lead a number of clinicians to resign and blow the whistle about what they perceived to be a hospital with systemic issues and failures.

Yesterday, Barwon MP Roy Butler said he’d spoken with New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard about Alex’s case, and passed on his sympathies to Alex’s family.

“This particular situation with Alex is just so tragic for the family, I can’t imagine what it’s like for them,” said Mr Butler.

“I haven’t made any noise on social media about it because I guess I want to fix the problems but I don’t want to shine a spotlight on the family because I’m sure that every day they’re reminded of this.

“I’ve also met with Brad (Hazzard) in regards to Alex, when I became aware of what had happened there (at the hospital), and spoke to him about that particular case. 

“To be frank, I think he was pretty horrified by it as well.

“I don’t think anyone could hear that story and what happened and not be affected, moved and feel for the family going through such a horrible ordeal.”

Alex’s tragic death has also highlighted an alarming Broken Hill statistic - the highest number of potentially avoidable deaths in the state, according to the latest New South Wales Health Department figures.

For the ‘Broken Hill LGA’, there were 189 potentially avoidable deaths per 100,000 people during 2015-16, a significant difference to the state average of 103.

And while the Broken Hill LGA figures have dropped and risen over the years, the state average has been trending downwards.

It’s not just Broken Hill statistics that are cause for concern, as Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics show that rural and remote areas across the country are recording much higher rates of avoidable deaths than the cities and inner regional locations.

Of 31 different classified areas, the Northern Territory, Western Queensland and Western New South Wales areas occupy the highest numbers, all of them well above the latest national average of 106 deaths per 100,000 people, with rates of 218, 188 and 157, respectively.

“I know that we’re not tracking too well in terms of avoidable deaths,” said Mr Butler.

“And avoidable deaths and life expectancy were two of the things we picked up on during the election because our health outcomes in Far Western New South Wales are much worse, not just a little bit worse, than the cities.

“That’s something I’m acutely aware of.”

Mr Butler said he and his party were pushing for an audit of the state’s health services as well as backing calls by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association to increase nurse to patient ratios by 1:4 in medical and surgical wards and 1:3 in emergency department and children wards for all regional hospitals. 

“There’s no reason that any hospital in this state should be under resourced or under staffed,” he said.

“Health services are so important, and as we’ve got any aging population it becomes even more important.

“So we’re going to continue to push for this audit.

“The idea will be that they’ll look at every health facility in regional New South Wales, look at the staffing of it.

“Also develop a comprehensive incentive package to attract doctors and nurses to regional locations.

“We’ve got a huge issue with locums filling in place of VMOs (Visiting Medical Officers), which is a huge cost to the public purse.

“But it also means, from a continuity of care perspective, we haven’t got the same people seeing our patients when they come into the hospital and that’s not good enough.

“So the audit is something I’ll meet with him (Brad Hazzard) about in the next two sitting weeks (of parliament.)”

NSW Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park echoed Mr Butler’s sympathies for Alex’s family and said an independent inquiry was needed to look at the challenges facing smaller hospitals in rural and regional areas.

“This is an absolutely heartbreaking case and my heart goes out the family and friends of Alex Braes,” said Mr Park.

“It is quite clear they have been let down by a system in crisis, in particular in rural and regional NSW.

“The reality is there is a great divide that exists in terms of access to appropriate health care and treatment for those living in our major cities and those living in rural and regional communities across NSW.

“I believe this case and the recent Coroner’s report into issues at Tumut hospital justify a complete independent inquiry that looks at the challenges facing smaller hospitals and rural communities and what is needed to improve the quality and availability of treatments for residents living in rural and regional NSW.

“I intend on writing to the Minister for Health advocating for this high level investigation so not only can we get to the bottom of the tragic circumstances that resulted in the death of Mr Braes, but also put in place the funding and system improvements to reduce the chance that any other family has to go through the heartbreak and loss that Alex’s loved ones are now enduring.”

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