LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
IT is with great concern that I write to the Gippsland Times bearing witness to the decline of a good health service, formerly a base hospital where I once trained, worked and acted as chairman of the medical staff group for many years.
In the past few weeks another surgeon and former colleague has effectively been pushed out, with only a half-time surgeon remaining as well as an international medical graduate staff surgeon.
Another resignation or ousting in silence without community or public comment.
The health service will probably either pass no comment or use unsatisfactory platitudes that it is undergoing 'renewal' or that 'staff come and go'.
It will possibly ultimately employ other overseas trained staff with the explanation that it is hard to attract specialists to the country or classify itself as an 'area of need'.
The real reasons involve the deterioration of relationships with senior medical staff and the inability to offer proper conditions and unsatisfactory short term contracts.
This is not just a medical staff matter, but also involves a similar situation with senior nursing staff resignations or redeployment because of a lack of hospital clinical activity.
It will be hard, and in reality impossible, to attract senior staff to leadership roles in a hospital that has reached a tipping point with a toxic work environment, de-skilled clinical staff where the operating theatre is open only a couple of days in the week and the surgical ward has become an aged care ward.
Is this a hospital that is open for business and actively serving the needs of the community?
Central Gippsland Health Service, during the past few years, has been unquestionably an unhappy place with a revolving door of senior medical and nursing staff.
A hospital once capable of doing most things has become a referral way station to Melbourne for general practitioners and those who go to the emergency department.
It is incredible that just recently it has been voted 'best regional hospital', and it is best to examine closely who gave this accolade and how it came about.
In reality, it's just a feel-good advertorial.
I came to Sale as a consultant surgeon after training at the same hospital at a troubled time, when the board was removed and the hospital placed under administration.
Perhaps the current hospital board and chairman should consider an independent administrative review to assess administrative performance at the hospital, before they are formally asked to by the health department and government and to try and halt the current downward spiral of hobbled acute care before becoming a series of hospital-managed nursing homes.
Has the board been informed properly?
If it has, then shouldn't the community be asking questions of the board?
It is the board and administration that are servants of the community.
Further, it seems obvious that the notion of a community hospital 'service' and the old 'Central Gippsland Health Service' have become formally divorced with the change of logo and brand change to the ironic 'Central Gippsland Health' wiping out 'Service' from the hospital.
It almost seems like a Freudian slip and almost humorous if it wasn't so serious.
Really, this change should be regarded as an announcement to reposition the hospital as no longer a comprehensive medical and surgical care centre, but really a series of aged care facilities or more plainly put, nursing homes.
A hospital-run nursing home business in Heyfield, Maffra and Sale sandwiched between two proper regional hospitals in the Latrobe Valley and Bairnsdale.
In a financial climate of stringency where every penny counts, the expense of a new logo and branding on all hospital nursing uniforms, stationary, advertising, signs must be regarded either as a misplaced and inappropriate administrative vanity, or taken seriously as an action of stealth to downgrade the hospital capability.
It is easy to wreck something in days and weeks that has taken the hard and talented effort of decades of numerous doctors and nurses to construct and build.
Community silence, doing nothing and not asking questions of hospital administration and the board is not an option, because silence will result in further attrition and loss of clinical activity, making Sale unsuitable to train specialist doctors.
The flow-on will be the inability to maintain an open-all-hours service because of the lack of training registrars.
This will then mean loss of the intensive care unit because of insufficient clinical activity, and this will then affect the suitability of Sale having medical students.
All of this is the direct result of poor relationships and the revolving door and loss of specialists, leaving behind a skeleton crew of well-meaning but over-burdened general practitioners.
For the community and those reading this letter, it will directly hit the hip pocket to consult quality specialists in the private sector and also more frequent travel to Melbourne, just because the local public hospital is in disarray.