In it, he warned: “We are very concerned that financial pressures on exec are so extreme that recommendations following significant clinical incidents are being ignored (including a death in our department now nearly two years ago that was linked to inadequate staffing).”
However in response to a question in parliament put forward by opposition health spokesman Sean L’Estrange about the email, Minister Cook said on Tuesday it was the responsibility of health service providers to ensure the configuration of staff met the needs of their hospitals.
“This is not the responsibility of the Minister for Health,” he said.
“I do not strut up and down the corridors of the wards counting the numbers of nurses, doctors and allied health staff to ensure that they are there.”
Our emergency departments are working extremely well
Minister for Health Roger Cook
The minister told Parliament he accepted it was hard working in emergency departments, but claimed “our emergency departments are working extremely well”.
WAtoday has previously reported on concerns over the dramatic increase in ambulance ramping hours and violence and aggression in the hospital’s emergency department.
The government would continue to work with staff to make sure that they were supported, Mr Cook said, but he did not accept the information provided by Dr Allely in the email.
“I reject the idea that somehow we are facing some sort of crisis,” Mr Cook said.
“Quite frankly I understand why the opposition is onto this issue – because it has nothing else.”
Tomorrow: WAtoday takes you inside the waiting room
North Metropolitan Health Service chief executive Robyn Lawrence said activity in the ED had increased by 39 per cent since 2008 but they had also increased clinical staffing to meet this demand.
“Compared to 2008, there are currently 20 more doctors and 28 more nurses employed in the SCHG emergency department today,” Dr Lawrence said.
However Australian Medical Association WA president Omar Khorshid disputed this, agreeing with Dr Allely that staffing levels had not increased and business cases to enable the hospital to reach safe staffing levels had been repeatedly knocked back.
He said it appeared the Minister had been misled.
Dr Khorshid said there had been some staff increases in 2008, but for the decade between 2009 and 2019 there had been no increase in doctor or nurse numbers in the SCGH emergency department, aside from unfunded intern positions not normally considered a productive staffing resource.
On Tuesday Dr Khorshid offered Premier Mark McGowan some advice via social media, saying Mr McGowan should listen and respond to senior doctors when they tell him lives are at risk.
“The system is under stress and it’s not just staff who suffer,” Mr Khorshid said on Twitter. “Help us help our patients.”
Mr L’Estrange in Parliament on Wednesday noted Dr Khorshid’s public plea, asking Mr McGowan when he would act and make sure hospitals are “properly resourced”.
A day after the original question about SCGH ED had been asked in Parliament, Mr McGowan replied “as I understand it, there was some reference” to the hospital’s ED but although activity had increased, clinical staffing had increased to “meet demand.”
‘No need to intervene’
Mr L’Estrange also asked the minister if he would “immediately intervene” to address ward bed shortages and emergency department staffing.
Mr Cook refused, saying public hospitals remain well funded, comparatively to their needs.
“If there is a need to increase those staffing levels, the health service providers go to the Department of Health and they renegotiate the contract between them and the Department of Health,” the minister, who has the power to direct the department, said.
“I am advised that there has been no reduction in staffing.
“I believe that, as one of our older hospitals, SCGH is one hospital that we are increasingly looking to for redevelopment, because, ultimately, it will become more and more constrained because of the age of the infrastructure.
“But we continue to do a good job.
“I remind all members that our emergency departments are the best in the country.”
Mr L’Estrange told WAtoday the Minister was in denial if he thought it was not his responsibility to step in and address the “concerns of his experts.”
Labor’s state government Health Minister is responsible to the people of WA for our public health sector
Opposition spokesman Sean L’Estrange
“WA’s EDs continue to struggle to meet nationally agreed four-hour maximum wait times for patients; ambulances are now regularly ramped up outside EDs, and unable to hand over their patients to ED staff within 20 minutes, because EDs are full,” he said.
“In the first six months of 2018 we saw a 55 per cent increase in assaults on nurses compared to the same time in 2017; and we recently heard from the director of emergency medicine at SCGH, Dr Peter Allely, who said ‘as winter approaches there will be more avoidable deaths in our department in the coming months unless changes are made’.
“Labor’s state government Health Minister is responsible to the people of WA for our public health sector.”
Daile Cross writes news features with a focus on social justice for WAtoday.
Lauren is a casual reporter and producer for WAtoday.