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Report into hospital medical services

Saturday, 28th September, 2019

BH Health Service GM, Melissa Welsh. BH Health Service GM, Melissa Welsh.

By Callum Marshall

The new General Manager of the Broken Hill Health Service has sought to reassure the community that proper health care workplace processes and responses to staff concerns are in place, and being adhered to, at the local hospital.

Melissa Welsh’s comments follow a Four Corners report earlier this month which highlighted the failures in assessment, medical testing and quick hospital transfer from Broken Hill Hospital that led to a local teenager’s death in 2017.

The comments also follow concerns raised by former clinicians at the hospital to the BDT, who described an organisation, they believe, had cultural problems at the management level, alongside other issues.

With a state government report highlighting 30 recommendations that the hospital needed to implement earlier this year, Ms Welsh said a majority of them were either in place or in progress.

“There’s a little bit of work still to do around a couple of the recommendations, but they’re well progressed,” she said.

“The review was specifically around how we run our medical services and that’s where the recommendations are focused.”

Although not a major feature of the review, one of the recommendations stated that “urgent action must be taken by the Broken Hill Health Service executive to address remaining toxic behaviours and set by example CORE values.”

A supposed “cultural problem” within the hospital’s management was an issue brought up by the former clinicians who spoke to the BDT, who raised concerns about a culture they believed was sometimes bullying, inappropriate and aggressive.

On what she would do to address allegations of a bullying, intimidating culture at the hospital, Ms Welsh said her priorities were to look at what she could do in the future to best manage staff concerns.

“My view is that I’m focused on now and the future, and that’s what I can control,” she said.

“So the way I see things is that if someone has a concern, as is always the case and has always been the case in every job I’ve ever held, we have a conversation and we then start to look for the facts and the evidence.

“Sometimes there are grounds for any concerns, issues or problems that people may raise, and sometimes there’s strong evidence and facts.

“Sometimes there isn’t evidence to support a claim.

“So it’s about having a robust look at anything that comes to our attention and actually being able to progress forward in the way that’s most appropriate, depending what the issue is.”

When asked whether the hospital was putting in place any policies or procedures to make sure a death such as that of local teenager Alex Braes would never happen again, Ms Welsh wanted to reassure the community that they’d receive proper health care when they came to the hospital.

“In terms of Alex’s case, obviously we can’t go into details because we are cooperating with the coronial inquest at this present point in time,” she said.

“What I can say is that ... when people come to the health service they can expect to receive a service.

“It’s important that if someone has an experience of our service that isn’t perhaps what they were expecting, or it wasn’t what they wanted, they tell us because if we don’t know we can’t fix the problems.

“So I think that’s probably my main concern; that the community actually feels that they can still come and access the service.

“(And) if it’s been a great experience then we can learn from that as well and put those things in other places.”

When asked why no one from the hospital had yet come out and said anything about the death of the local teenager, like the Chief Executive of Latrobe Hospital did when mistakes at that hospital were brought up in the Four Corners program, Ms Welsh said, for her, she didn’t want to comment any further on it.

“For me personally, we could debate the merits of reporting, we could debate the balance of the story, we could go down every rabbit hole you could think of around that,” she said.

“(But) when I was sitting there watching it (Four Corners), my first response was ‘this is a person and this is a family and their situation is incredibly tragic.’

“To have to deal with that in a public way is extremely ... hard for them.

“So I guess all I’m probably going to say on that is (that) I’m not going to invade on their privacy and comment on things that, a), I wasn’t involved in and, b), I think doesn’t help them.

“If they would like to speak to us, obviously, that’s a different story.

“In terms of what I was seeing, what I was experiencing and what I was feeling (from watching the Four Corners report and my response to that), is that (the) family is having to relive such a terrible experience publically.

“And that didn’t sit well with me.”

As for the GM role, Ms Welsh said she was bringing 20 years’ experience in the health system to it.

“I started my working life as a health professional in Occupational Therapy in the late 90s and have basically been employed continuously since then,” she said.

“I’ve managed a service in Adelaide and various other programs and services, developed a few clinics and services in that time, and have been back here for 12 years doing management, change management and helped with the redevelopment, (alongside) a few other things.”

A main focus would be ensuring hospital staff continue to work well as a team, she said.

“I’m a member of the team and I think it’s about leading fairly and being true to our core value as a health service,” said Ms Welsh.

“And whatever’s gone before is something that we can learn from, if there were lessons to be learned we learn from them, and we focus on moving forward and being the best service that we can possibly be for our community.

“That’s my goal.”

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