Teething Problems for New Northern Beaches Hospital

Hospital ward with beds and medical equipment interior of new empty hospital room.

Problems with a newly built hospital made national headlines this week when the chief executive officer resigned two days after the official opening on Monday. Some doctors have accused the new hospital of being driven by profit rather than patient care, and some anaesthetists have threatened to stop performing elective surgery citing unsafe conditions. They claim that multiple surgeries are being cancelled or rescheduled daily to lack of equipment or theatre staff.

There have also been reports of staff shortages and unavailable stock of essential medical supplies at the new 488-bed hospital at Frenchs Forest, around 13 kilometres north of Sydney’s central business district. Questions have been raised whether the public-private model of the hospital, which is unique in NSW, is to blame for the challenges allegedly being experienced by staff and patients. The hospital was designed and built in partnership between the NSW Government and a private healthcare provider. Of the hospital’s 488 beds, 60 percent are public and 40 percent are private. All patients who present to emergency are treated as public patients and if they are admitted those with private health insurance have the option to be treated as private patients.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association has raised concerns around the public maternity services with accusations that staff are having to familiarise themselves with machinery while women are in labour. Maternity patients attending for pre-natal care have complained that administration is disorganised and that they have had appointments rescheduled. One new mother claims that while her premature baby received excellent care, staff were unable to source painkillers for her and that she was sent home with no discharge papers.

Concerns addressed

NSW Health say the concerns of hospital staff and patients are being addressed. Management of the hospital has also acknowledged issues which they attribute partly to higher than anticipated patient demand, particularly in the emergency department which saw 2,700 patients in the first 16 days of operation. Hospital management have also acknowledged problems arising from the challenge of transitioning staff from multiple hospital backgrounds.

The Northern Beaches Hospital replaces services which were previously provided at Mona Vale Hospital and Manly Hospital. On the 31st October, acute services and 40 patients were moved from the 156-bed Mona Vale Hospital to the new Northern beaches Hospital. Mona Vale remains a public hospital providing inpatient rehabilitation, aged healthcare and palliative care. Services at Manly Hospital have also transferred to the new hospital. Future use of the Manly Hospital Site is currently being determined with plans for it to become a hospice for young adults.

The Northern Beaches Hospital has a 50-bed emergency department, 14 theatres, specialist wards including intensive care and mental health, a medical centre, and an education centre for staff as well as medical imaging, pharmacy and pathology facilities. More than 600 surgeries have been completed within 19 days at the hospital including a coronary angiogram and robotic surgery.