Warrnambool Base Hospital has appointed its first full-time specialist intensive care director as it builds towards a significantly larger workforce and range of clinical services.
Veteran intensive care physician Dr Craig Walker was appointed to the new position in December 2022, replacing the part-time role vacated by infectious diseases physician Dr Mark Page earlier in the year.
South West Healthcare chief executive officer Craig Fraser revealed the appointment in an interview with The Standard, calling it "a really exciting addition to our services".
"Craig joined us late last year and is working with the current physician complement who are also ICU trained, to not only stabilise but also hopefully over time develop the ICU into having a higher clinical capability," Mr Fraser said.
"This is an evolving area where we are working with Craig on what is a key area of service development. We want to make it a really attractive ICU for people to come and join us, both medically and nursing-wise."
He said the higher clinical capability would provide huge benefits for local people who required intensive care. Dr Walker also has a decades-long history in paediatrics, including as director of paediatric intensive care at Monash Medical Centre, which is a further boost to the hospital's services.
"It will allow us to take and keep more complex cases in this region... and save them having to go to a higher level ICU in either Geelong or Melbourne," Mr Fraser said. "Having said that, there will always be some patients who we have to transfer out, because we're not a tertiary specialist hospital."
As recently as 18 months ago, SWH was turning away intensive care specialists offering to work at the Warrnambool hospital. Mr Fraser said the appointment of a full-time ICU director was part of a "strategic evolution" of the hospital's services.
"It's part of further development of the health service. I wouldn't say we weren't looking at a more substantive clinical director," he said. "I think what we have to remember is that we've had a really committed high performing physician workforce that's also skilled in ICU, which is quite unique in Australia and it's been great."
The hospital has also recruited two new intensive care registrars from St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, who will rotate through the Warrnambool ICU. It means the hospital has gone from running an ICU with no intensive care specialists, to having three on its books.
"It's becoming a really great model where we have that specialist leadership, then the registrars who support the ICU but also the existing physicians who are very skilled in that area too. So it's great, really," Mr Fraser said.
He said the hospital was steadily gearing up for the major staff expansion required over the next four years in the transition to the $384 million redevelopment.
"We are expanding our footprint, so that requires more staff to maintain, but we're also increasing our ability to provide more services," he said. "So as we move into that facility we're doing planning now for what it looks like, what we need, and how many staff we will need in the future."
Mr Fraser said he foresaw "more challenges... when it comes to staffing". He said SWH was still struggling to replace the urologist who walked out in mid-2022, and despite appointing new ED doctors there was a shortfall in emergency.
"Medical staff has been a challenging area, especially recruiting for specialist roles... but overall we've seen an increase in staff, which is significant given the COVID job landscape," he said.
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