Steriliser issue at Shoalhaven Hospital forcing patients to wait longer

Labor's health spokesman Walt Secord has called on the NSW government to urgently replace the faulty steriliser that has brought much of Shoalhaven Hospital’s elective surgery to a halt this month.

Mr Secord said the problems with the machine used to sterilise theatre equipment was the ‘’last thing’’ South Coast patients needed, with the hospital’s elective surgery waits and lists already a ‘’national disgrace’’.

‘’Shoalhaven Hospital has the dubious distinction of having the longest waits in NSW … and they just got longer,’’ he said. 

‘’The independent Bureau of Health Information (BHI) reports that Shoalhaven patients already wait 302 days for cataract surgery, 330 days for knee surgery, 323 days for a tonsillectomy and 358 days for knee surgery.’’

The BHIs latest Hospital Quarterly report revealed that at the end of September 30, there were 1571 patients on the waiting list for elective surgery at the hospital.

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Executive Director Clinical Operations Carolyn Cooper said the problems with the steriliser were identified on February 1 and new equipment was ‘’being ordered’’.

Those requiring ‘’less urgent immediate surgery’’ had been transferred to Wollongong for their procedure; while those needing ‘’urgent and time critical surgery’’ at Shoalhaven Hospital had relied on sterilised surgical packs being sent from Wollongong. Yet an issue with those packs has this week forced more cancellations.

‘’Shoalhaven Hospital places the highest priority on patient safety and has made the decision to postpone some elective surgery, following an intermittent issue with sterilised theatre packs currently being processed at Wollongong Hospital for use at Shoalhaven,’’ Ms Cooper said late this week.

‘’This has resulted in fewer available theatre packs for use in elective surgery.  We want to reassure the community that there has been no risk to patient safety and the inconsistencies in sterilised packs were detected as part of stringent and ongoing inspections to ensure appropriate clinical standards.

‘’… We have teams at both Shoalhaven and Wollongong working around the clock to resolve the issue and bring elective surgery levels at Shoalhaven back to normal as quickly as possible.’’

Mr Secord said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard should take immediate action to reduce waiting lists.

‘’Sadly, patients schedule time off work; close down their small businesses or put kids with grandparents and relatives or childcare to get elective surgery, but this closure is a major inconvenience. But the bottom line is patients need to be absolutely confident that they are getting surgery in a sterile and totally clean environment.’’