Byron Bay Hospital . . . along with other regional hospitals received high praise from patients.
Byron Bay Hospital . . . along with other regional hospitals received high praise from patients.

Health survey doesn’t tell story

After spending just three nights at Byron Bay Hospital, it comes as no surprise that it, and other hospitals under the North Coast Area Health Service umbrella, topped the state in a recent survey of patient satisfaction.

The survey found 74 per cent of patients who stayed overnight at one of the NCAHS hospitals said their stay was either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.

The area health service also topped the survey in staff teamwork, courtesy of nurses, availability of nurses and courtesy of the person who had admitted them.

The care shown to me and the other three patients in my ward by hard-pressed nursing staff certainly reflected that survey result.

But it doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, tell the full story of the state of NSW’s under-funded, beleaguered public health system, or of individual hospitals in that system, such as Byron Bay.

There was one common theme in chats I had with nurses during my stay – lack of resources, both staff and facilities.

And if they were allowed to speak publicly, that’s what they would scream out loudly.

I don’t know whether my stay at the hospital was typical – and it was the first time in more than 20 years that I had been a patient there – but I will outline here my experience.

With lower stomach pains and a high temperature, my GP said it would be best if I went to the hospital for further tests and to treat what appeared to be an infection with antibiotics administered through a drip.

Before being admitted to a ward, I was first assessed in the accident and emergency ward and had a cannula inserted in my right arm to later accommodate the drip.

There were at least three other patients in the ward and it was busy. I had plenty of time to observe what was going on there because I remained in the ward for more than two hours. Is that typical?

There were times when nursing staff couldn’t respond immediately to calls for assistance from other patients and they were obviously working on a needs-basis priority system.

The emergency department operates seven days a week, 24-hours a day, and it comes as no surprise that drug and alcohol-affected people put an immense burden on the system, especially on weekends.

I have been told staff in that department are apparently regularly abused and even threatened by drug and alcohol-affected people.

Eventually I was wheeled around to the other side of the hospital to a ward in which there were three other patients – severely pulled hamstring, broken leg and broken hip – and hooked up to the drip.

There, as the survey results spell out, the care of the nurses 24 hours a day was what one would expect of professionals, even when situations arose that would test the patience of many of us.

One afternoon, a car accident at St Helena resulted in, I understand, two nurses from the general ward where I was, being sent to the emergency ward to assist.

With 16 patients occupying beds in the general wards at the time, it resulted in delays to responses to calls for assistance in my ward from one of the patients of up to possibly 10 or more minutes.

Under the circumstances and given the staffing levels, it was understandable – but is it acceptable? I would think not. And it’s not a problem created by nurses.

Another real problem for our health system is the ageing nursing force.

One nurse told me the average age of nurses in NSW was 58, which was reflected at Byron Bay.

Another nurse said there weren’t many young people these days who wanted to be nurses.

“Why would they?” she said. “It’s too hard.”

North Coast Area Health Service CEO, Chris Crawford, told our sister paper The Northern Star last week the survey, in which 20,000 patients were asked 80 questions including waiting times, use of medication and admission and discharge procedures, was a ‘pat on the back and a vote of confidence in our clinicians’.

Mr Crawford said the service was very pleased with the results because it came from patients’ perspective and it showed they were satisfied with the care they were getting.

But with the good news comes the not-so-good.

Prior to the results of the patients’ survey being released, a quarterly statewide hospital review found the NCAHS failed to meet most benchmarks in treating emergency patients within set times.

Mr Crawford said those results were affected by the roll-out of a new electronic record system and he predicted the service would soon be ‘back on track’.

Which is where I was after a few days in hospital.

Thank you nurses and doctors.

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