File picA staffing changein Bendigo Health’soperating theatres will result in “grossly inadequate” numbers of trained anaesthesia nurses and put patient safety at risk, specialists believe.
From Monday, the hospital’s highly trained anaesthesia assistants will be replaced with anaesthesia nurses with less experience.
The situation islikely tocausesignificant disruption to elective operating theatre listsand an inability to provide safe after-hours emergency surgical services, leaders of Bendigo’s anaesthetic craft-grouphave warned the Bendigo Health management and board.
“Whilstthe Department of Anaesthesia supports the move from a medical technician-assistant model to a nurse-assistant model, we are concerned with the rapidity in progression proposed by management,” written correspondence states.
Theysuggested a gradualtransitionto the new model. A former department director has called the situation dangerous.
“In a real critical situation, you want people who know their job backwards,” they said.
“These people are unfamiliar with the surroundings and a lot of them aren’t properly trained.”
The anaesthesia assistantswill be demoted to theatre technicians, a role with limitedpatient care.
Theyhave been working alongsideanaesthetists to ensure patient safety during surgeries for years and havemore than 100 years of collective experience.
“It is inexplicable why the nursing-led operating theatre management has deemed it necessary to replace this valuable workforce,” the correspondence reads.
Leaders of theanaesthetic craft-groupare also concerned about whether Bendigo Health will have enough trained and experienced staffers to expand surgical services into thenew hospital.
“Failed attempts to recruit anaesthesia nurses to adequately staff the operating theatre has resulted in reliance upon supplementary anaesthetic nurses supplied ad hoc by agency providers,” written correspondence states.
Bendigo Health looked to London and New Zealand for experienced theatre nurses, UK theatre scrubs and scouts and anaesthesia nurses.
Interviews were scheduled for late November and early December. The new hospital is due to open on January 24.
The former department directorsaida stafferhad been reported for harassment afterraisingconcerns with management.
“It’s costing Bendigo Healththousands of dollars to follow through with this policy,” theysaid.
“The two main issues are safety, and waste of money. Why are they doing this?”
Bendigo Health acute health executive director Robyn Lindsay said there would be no compromise to safety.
She said Bendigo Health decided to alter the workforce profile in the operating theatres “to improve the model of care” by providing a more flexible workforce.
“This will also bring Bendigo into line with the organisational practices of the other hospitals throughout Victoria,” she said.
Bendigo Healthhasbeen working towards the transition for more than 18 months.
“We understand that this change, like many changes, has an impact on the entire workforce in the department,” Ms Lindsay said.
“We have actively supported the staffing group and have an employee assistance program available which provides confidential support 24 hours a day.
“Bendigo Health is confident that we have the systems, training and support to transition the anaesthetic technicians into their new roles and is pleased they have all chosen to continue working in the department.”
A spokesperson for Minister for Health Jill Hennessy said they had been advised that Bendigo Health hadmet all requirements under the relevant enterprise agreement regarding the restructure of its anaesthetic technicians, including consultation with the unions, “who have not raised concerns to the changes”.
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