Staff may suffer too as hospital crisis bites

Surgeons working in the public healthcare sector are facing hard choices over staff layoffs as elective surgery at Warrnambool Base Hospital grinds to a halt for an entire month. 

South West Healthcare (SWH) this week revealed it would close up to nine beds in women’s health and rehabilitation wards in response to a $1.4 million federal government funding cut last year. 

Operating theatres will close for five weeks between March and April, delaying up to 260 surgeries.

Long-serving Warrnambool surgeon Stephen Fischer said the current crisis was like no other he could remember. 

Surgeons working in the public sector were facing financial shortfalls while watching the health of patients deteriorate, he told The Standard. 

“The hospital system is not healthy, I’ve never seen it like this,” Mr Fischer said.

“We’re trying not to put off staff. In some cases we’re just reducing hours. The hospital could be closed for up to 20 per cent of the year ... once upon a time the hospital was open all year round.” 

The surgeon joined a chorus of frustration over the standoff between the Commonwealth and the state over health funding. 

“It’s a terrible state of affairs — it’s no way to run a public institution like a hospital,” he said. 

“There have been a number of surgical beds that have reduced — there was a 25 per cent reduction in short-stay surgical beds.” 

Emergency surgery in category one operations such as cancers and melanomas have been unaffected by this week’s development. 

But delays are faced for surgery in category two operations for arthritis, hips and knees, carpel tunnel and abdominal pains.

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