‘Not fit for purpose’: Regional SA hospitals opt out of COVID plan

Two Eyre Peninsula hospitals have refused to be included in their Local Health Network’s (LHN) plan to treat less seriously ill COVID-19 patients because of dated equipment and insufficient staff. 

GPs working at the Wudinna and Cummins hospitals told the Eyre and Far North LHN that treating “step down” COVID-19 patients who did not require a high level of acute care would come at a cost to small rural communities.

Cummins hospital doctor Gerard Quigley said it was important that people were cared for properly, and that health authorities needed to find more appropriate facilities that would not result in the closure of after-hours and emergency care.

“The buildings are over 50 years old. There’s no negative pressure rooms, all the rooms feed onto a central corridor.

“It’s not built for purpose, and we still don’t have the staff to do what we’re currently doing.” 

A man with grey hair holds a landline phone receiver to his ear and smiles at the camera.
Cummins GP Gerard Quigley says ageing regional hospitals are not built to safely care for COVID-19 patients.(Supplied: Jo-Anne Quigley)

Dr Quigley also said the workforce was already overstretched and he did not see how it would be possible to have enough staff to operate segregated “red and green zones” for COVID-positive patients.

“To suggest that you’re going to duplicate or replace staff if they’re furloughed because they’ve had a positive swab or a respiratory illness — I’ve really got concerns about how that’s going to work,” he said.

From next year, Wudinna will also be without a permanent doctor unless a replacement can be found.

Precautionary measures needed

Dr Quigley said the limited number of frontline workers meant staff had started wearing full PPE as a precaution, because they expected to encounter a COVID-positive patient at some stage.

He said the GPs in the medical clinic also ran the emergency department, so they would likely be exposed to patients with respiratory illnesses.

A female nurse with hair in a bun wears a mask, face shield and yellow gown.
To minimise transmission, hospitals staff are wearing full PPE, reducing face-to-face consults and separating patients with respiratory symptoms.(Supplied: SA Health)

“People who present will notice that there’s masks on, face shields, gowns and the like,” Dr Quigley said.

He said the hospital had also revised its processes to limit transmission but was not excluding unvaccinated patients from attending.

“There’s also going to be a proportion of people, particularly unvaccinated people, who could be capable of spreading the virus without being aware they’re unwell,” he said.

Patients who present with respiratory symptoms will be seen in a designated area separate from the main hospital, and face-to-face consultations would be avoided when possible.

In a statement, the CEO of the LHN, Verity Paterson, said key partners including GPs had guided the network’s COVID response and it was attempting to get extra resources in the event of a major outbreak.

She said to increase staff, the LHN planned to free up nurses, have roving swab teams, and train other allied health professionals to administer vaccinations. 

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