WCH nurses warn of ‘very high risk of deaths’

21 October 2021

Childhood cancer patients are having treatment postponed and safety is being put at risk “every day” because of “chronic” understaffing at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, senior nurses have told a parliamentary committee in damning secret evidence now made public, InDaily reports.

Nurses said there was a “very high risk” of deaths occurring, prevented only by “hypervigilant” staff forced to do double shifts “to ensure that’s not happening”.

“We are the safety barrier and it’s about to break,” one nurse said.

The shocking revelations are yet more evidence of a health system on the verge of collapse and why the ANMF (SA Branch) is imploring the community to join our campaign for urgent ‘Action for Health’.

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The nurses gave evidence to the select committee on health services in August behind closed doors.

They have agreed to release their evidence publicly on the condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals from management, saying those who speak out are “labelled toublemakers” and subjected to “bullying behaviour”.

Their disturbing evidence, InDaily reports, included:

  • Overbooked clinic lists for cancer patients, resulting in delays and postponement of treatment.
  • Positions being cut and a “chronic” staffing crisis forcing nurses and doctors to work double shifts of 18 hours without a meal break.
  • Children collapsing in the front waiting room because of a lack of staff to notice how sick they are.
  • Patients being moved out of the dedicated cancer ward because it is full and treated in other wards with “ill-equipped” staff.
  • Theatre lists running late causing delays in procedures and extended fasting times for young children.
  • Delays in chemotherapy preparation.
  • Claims of safety incident reports made by staff being “removed”.

The latest series of bombshells follows a grim warning on Friday by 37 "overworked, fatigued and frustrated" doctors at the WCH who have demanded more help to care for sick and injured children who come to the emergency department.

They have signed a letter to state and hospital leaders outlining their fears that a "preventable tragedy" will happen due to a critical staff shortage.

The parliamentary committee’s chairperson, SA-BEST MLC Connie Bonaros, said the nurses’ evidence “should send shockwaves throughout the community”.

Ms Bonaros said if this was happening at the WCH “what is occurring at our other public hospitals”?

“My fear is many of these dedicated nurses will simply abandon the public health system in preference of the private sector, then what for our public hospitals?” she said.

Speaking on Leon Byner’s FIVEAA morning show today, ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said the situation at the WCH was an “absolute disgrace”.

“Bonaros is absolutely spot on when she talks about the bravery of those nurses. I mean, they are doing the pinnacle of patient advocacy," Ms Dabars said.

“They are doing an admirable job in very difficult circumstances. But they cannot keep going like this. And we have raised the issue continuously, we have been making some small steps forward. But it's like pulling teeth. It's a deep issue that, quite frankly, should never have occurred. If they (the WCH) had actually conducted their own reviews into it and listened to what people were telling them, it is entirely avoidable.

“They continue to put children receiving cancer treatment in outlying areas where they don’t have adequate staffing or skills to appropriately deliver care. Parents should be angry about this and the nurses are angry about this and they are doing their absolute utmost to protect and shield the children in their care and the families who are receiving that care,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“The thing is it’s at their (nurses’) own detriment, they are literally hurting themselves because they care so much, because they are doing those double shifts and filling in. We did a fatigue survey recently and the evidence is clear. The system is overwhelmed with fatigue, country and metropolitan hospitals. But the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the place with a pretty vulnerable client group, has the absolute worst fatigue. And, again, it’s all avoidable and I put it down to a complete lack of leadership.

“This requires the Minister for Health and the Premier to step up and lead. Again, a lot of this is avoidable and preventable if they had actually done workforce planning years ago. We are now in a desperate situation where we are scrabbling because, you think about it, even if, best case scenario, those extra 600 (graduate nurses announced by the Government), if they do end up literally as boots on the ground we have to recognise they are novices, they need support and mentorship. They cannot be used as cannon fodder in a system which is already overburdened and overwhelmed.

“We do desperately need them, but it needs to be done in a managed and strategic way and, again, it is just so frustrating. This should have been happening years ago, just like we asked them to do.’’

Read the full InDaily story here.