Tenterfield Hospital: Janelle Saffin critical of Hunter New England Health investigation

UNHEALTHY: State MP Janelle Saffin says an review is needed to examine the high turnover of nursing staff, a lack of visiting medical officers and serious medical incidents. Picture: Supplied
UNHEALTHY: State MP Janelle Saffin says an review is needed to examine the high turnover of nursing staff, a lack of visiting medical officers and serious medical incidents. Picture: Supplied

A response to issues at Tenterfield District Hospital by Hunter New England Health has been criticised by our state MP.

Janelle Saffin told the Tenterfield Star an independent review was needed examining the high turnover of nursing staff, a lack of visiting medical officers and serious medical incidents.

Following complaints from patients, the director of nursing from Tamworth and the director of emergency services from Armidale both spent a week at Tenterfield Hospital before reporting back to Hunter New England Health.

But the CEO of Hunter New England Health, Michael DiRienzo, has said nothing of significance has come out of the review, which was prompted by complaints from two patients.

Ms Saffin this week said she believed Hunter New England Health should have conducted an independent, external investigation into management of the hospital, and said she was disappointed the health district had ignored her call for an independent probe.

The MP had urged Health Minister Brad Hazzard to take that action, on behalf of Tenterfield Shire Council and the local community.

But Hunter New England Health instead embarked on the in-house review.

"Anything other than an investigation with real independent rigour into concerns about high turnover of nursing staff, a lack of visiting medical officers and serious medical incidents at the hospital, will not be accepted by councillors or locals," Ms Saffin said.

The Lismore MP said she was uninspired by Mr DiRienzo's answer to a question put to him by Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord during a Budget estimates hearing late last month.

Mr Secord asked Mr DiRienzo what had been the response from government and the local health district to Ms Saffin's calls made in late June for an independent investigation, including concerns that there was no onsite doctor at the hospital.

Mr DiRienzo replied: "I had the opportunity to sit down with the local member for Tenterfield and went through a process. The agreed process was that we would not do an independent review; it was not necessary.

"The issues came from two complaints, from two patients who had, unfortunately, an experience that could have been provided better to them. There were no clinical issues of any significance," Mr DiRienzo said.

"What we did instead is, we did a review based on the fact that we sent in two of our very much leading rural clinicians. We asked our director of nursing at Tamworth Base Hospital and we asked our director of emergency services at Armidale Rural Referral Hospital to go to Tenterfield and be there for the week and undertake a review, with a report back to the chief executive and to the board on what their findings were.

"The review was looking at those complaints in more detail but really assessing the role delineation of the hospital, its ability to provide the role that it plays up at Tenterfield, and also to do exit interviews and to interview a lot of the staff around some of the issues that have been raised at Tenterfield for quite a while.

"I have got to say that nothing of any significance has come out. The issue about doctors, we looked at that again. We only had a doctor that was not there on, I think, one occasion over the last four years. A lot of this is about putting some evidence on the table about the ability of the hospital and how we work together with the community."

Ms Saffin said only an independent investigation into management of the hospital would be accepted by the community, the council or herself. She also said that promises by HNEH to regularly update the community on positive news about the hospital had not been followed through on.


A spokesman from Hunter New England Health told the Tenterfield Star they were waiting for the report to be finalised before commenting