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Clinicians speak out

Wednesday, 18th September, 2019

Broken Hill Health Service. PICTURE: Myles Burt Broken Hill Health Service. PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Callum Marshall

Former clinicians at Broken Hill Hospital have shed further light on what they describe as a hospital with cultural problems at the management level, among other concerns.

Following last week’s Four Corners report which delved into the failures of assessment, medical testing and quick hospital transfer that led to local teenager Alex Braes’ death in 2017, the BDT has heard from former clinicians about supposedly wider cultural and staffing issues at the hospital.

Concerns raised include the lack of adequate staffing at times of great need, including specialists, lack of proper responses to clinicians’ concerns, major risk concerns, and a culture which was sometimes inappropriate, bullying and aggressive. 

They also raised concerns about staffing deficiencies causing some to work extra hours; that visiting consultants never felt valued, supported or connected; and that senior management had been warned about all these concerns.

The doctors and nurses spoke on condition of anonymity.

On staffing concerns, one clinician told the BDT that it was a big problem in the week of the death of 18-year-old Alex Braes.

“The doctors were under increasing pressure that week because the GP clinic attached to ED was closed because they didn’t have a doctor,” said the clinician.

“An extra 25 to 30 patients were going through the ED every day and they didn’t have extra staff on to manage it.”

The same clinician said cultural issues had been a big problem too.

“It comes from people living in the staff quarters together and working together, and sometimes they don’t establish their professional and personal boundaries,” they said.

“And personal stuff kicks over into the workplace.”

Another clinician said at least 38 people had left the hospital over the last several years, including a high number of nurses.

“Why have 15 nurses since December of last year gone over to work in the aged care sector?” said the clinician. “(That number) could be conservative.”

“Some of the medical staff have left because they’ve had other jobs or they retired,” said another clinician.

“There was documentation from at least eight of the regular 18 medical staff that they were leaving because of clinical risk concerns, among other concerns.

“There have been around 13 or more medical staff who came regularly in 2017 who no longer practice there.”

A sense of being “on their own” at the hospital was also acutely felt, said one clinician.

“I have worked in other New South Wales hospitals and there are similar problems but I think that the lack of response to clinicians at Broken Hill really blew us away. 

“I think...what’s unique to Broken Hill is a sense by clinicians that they’re pretty much on their own.”

Another clinician told the BDT that the hospital’s reaction following last week’s Four Corners report was telling.

“Each hospital has its own set of problems but most other hospitals would actually acknowledge them,” said the clinician.

“(An interesting) thing to take from Four Corners is that the Chief Executive of Latrobe Hospital actually stood up and said ‘we had a problem and this is what we’ve done to make sure it won’t happen again.’ He was accountable.

“Nobody’s ever done that about Alex Braes from Broken Hill’s perspective. 

“Why couldn’t they have actually put somebody there to say, ‘yes, we got that wrong and this is what we’ve done.’

“I think it’s because they really haven’t changed much.

“They still have their heads in the sand and they’re still not dealing with some of the problems that are there.”

In response to a series of questions about what processes were in place for staff to voice their concerns, and around allegations of a bullying culture, a spokesperson for the Far West Local Health District said they were “deeply committed to a workplace where there is zero tolerance to bullying and harassment.”

“Any allegation of bullying or harassment reported to the Far West LHD management is the subject of formal investigation in accordance NSW Ministry of Health policy provisions,” said the spokesperson.

“All new staff are required to attend Corporate Induction where information is provided regarding processes for reporting and addressing any concerns of bullying and harassment. 

“All staff including clinicians are required to undertake mandatory training.

“The LHD continues to provide continuity of high-quality and timely care with dedicated and professional staff.”

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