The nursing shortage in the East Kimberley is now at crisis point with hospital opening hours and services at Wyndham District Hospital cut back due to a lack of staff.
The WA Country Health Service has confirmed that the hospital will no longer operate 24-hours in the short-term as it has failed to find enough nurses to fill the shifts after a spate of burglaries at the nurses’ accommodation.
Instead of eight to nine nurses, next week the hospital will have just three nurses and has also been relying on the sole paramedic in town to backfill gaps in the roster.
Shadow Minister for Health Libby Mettam raised the issue in a grievance in parliament today and described the situation as unsafe and distressing for both the remaining staff and the community.
“This hospital usually operates an emergency department and inpatient beds but has now had to drastically reduce its services to daytime only,” Ms Mettam said.
“This means that any emergency after 7.30pm will now be referred to a telehealth line or be told to drive an hour to the nearest major health campus in Kununurra.
“Instead of health staff, there is now a security guard manning the hospital at night.
“This is an extraordinary situation that is completely unacceptable for both those nurses carrying the load under extenuating circumstances and the community that relies on this service.”
Ms Mettam said while recruiting nurses to regional areas has always been a challenge, it has no doubt been exacerbated by the government-imposed restrictions and interstate border closures.
“Regional health services are heavily dependent on interstate locums and agency staff but instead of actively working with the sector, as they did with the mining industry to ensure it wasn’t compromised due to border closures, the government has seemingly dropped the ball.
“There have been multiple cases of healthcare workers willing to transfer to WA during the past 21 months that were denied a pass or simply gave up due to the onerous requirements.
“Astoundingly, this government also suspended the Refresher Pathways program, to help experienced WA nurses re-entre the workforce, for 15 months.
“It defies belief and is yet another example of the WA Labor Government’s inability to manage the health portfolio.”
Member for the Mining and Pastoral Region Neil Thomson said that in a town as remote as Wyndham, the importance of the hospital could not be overestimated, particularly to the elderly population and those requiring specialised services with other allied health teams.
“Hospitals in the regions are often the lifeblood in the town, providing a safety net that help is on hand despite the remoteness of where these residents live,” Mr Thomson said.
“To have that stripped back, particularly for residents with chronic conditions, is alarming and causes unnecessary stress but seems to be yet another example of this government placing less importance on the regions.”
Ms Mettam said the issues at Wyndham District Hospital were unfortunately not isolated but indicative of the pressures being felt across the State.
“This is something all regional health services are facing and there is genuine concern about the Christmas period and associated annual leave pressures on these already stretched regional health services, particularly at Wyndham, and the impact that will have on those communities.
“It’s unconscionable that recruitment of critical healthcare workers to these areas has not been prioritised in a similar manner to the resources sector and I implore the Health Minister to urgently address these shortages.”
• Wyndham District Hospital usually operates with 8-9 nurses, that is now down to 3.
• Six nurses left at the start of the month due to safety fears in the nurses’ accommodation.
• The hospital usually operates 24-hour emergency and inpatient care but that has now been reduced to 7.30am-7.30pm with a security guard manning the hospital at night.
• Issues not isolated but indicative of the pressure being felt across the whole WA Country Health Service.
• There were 116 SAC-1 incidents reported by the WACHS in 2020-2021.
• Of those 116 incidents, 39 patients died and 56 patients suffered serious harm.
• Staff morale in the WACHS is also dire with only a quarter of WACHS workers in the recent Your Voice in Health survey stating they felt the organisation was making necessary improvements to meet their challenges.
• Only 29% of contracted medical practitioners to WACHS felt any level of support from the service.