AFTER more than 18 months of uncertainty, surgical services at Balaklava Hospital’s operating theatre have been relocated to Clare and District Hospital, effective immediately as from last Tuesday, March 16.

In a statement provided by SA Health and attributed to Yorke and Northern Local Health Network CEO, Roger Kirchner, it stated ‘the decision to relocate the relatively small number of surgical procedures was based on clinical advice and recommendations in order to meet National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards.’

“We would like to reassure the community that Balaklava Hospital will not close and Accident and Emergency (A&E) services, acute, community health and aged care services will continue to be provided to the community at the hospital,” he stated.

However the surgical activity at Balaklava Hospital, relatively low at approximately 17 low acuity orthopaedic and plastic surgical lists undertaken per year, was only based on two financial years of 2017-19, with surgery figures for previous years unable to be provided at time of print.

Past and present nursing and concerned community members are furious with the decision to cut the service to the 100-year-old hospital.

“It’s disgusting – it’s such a shame, and now we have to rely on others to take us to Clare or further for any surgery,” former nurse, Jenny Long said.

“We presented a petition to Hon Geoff Brock in April 2020, to be presented to SA Health Minister Stephen Wade, with 933 signatures on it which was a good effort considering it was right in COVID time,” Lynne Sutton said.

“However it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.”

“There are people’s lives and jobs at stake – doctors and nurses will have to reconsider their career options, so will they relocate?”

“And how will doctors keep up their expertise in fields like anaesthetics?”

“And we want to attract people to come and live here, but closing the theatre is disappointing,” Erika Engelke said.

Dr Tom Lemon, a GP and anaesthetist in Balaklava, said the frustrating thing is the failure to recognise the flow on effects from such a decision.

“Cutting services makes it even more difficult to attract future doctors to our area. A major incentive for doctors coming to rural areas is the availability of practicing extra skill sets such as anaesthetics,” he said.

Dr Lemon said the decision quite likely will have an impact on whether visiting specialists continue to attend.

“This will mean a loss of a skill set which is very difficult to re obtain – the technical skills required for providing anaesthetics flow onto emergency and trauma medicine,” Dr Lemon said.

“When I first came here in 1999, we had four visiting surgeons along with GP surgeons resulting in at least a weekly theatre list.

“Through depleted funding and lack of upgrades this dwindled however remained a perfectly adequate functioning theatre until 18 months ago it was decided it didn’t meet new guidelines.

“The small number of surgical procedures is more based on what we were “allowed” to perform and with no ability to attract further proceduralists.”

The nurses who met at the hospital on Monday said they recalled the building some 50-plus years ago of a new office and labour ward, then the theatre, x-ray and treatment rooms, but said not much money has been spent since then.

They said naturally the theatre might appear ‘outdated and non-compliant’ purely because government funding has been scarce.

“The theatre is still workable, and with the recovery room opposite, is very safe,” Joy Maxwell said.

In the March 2020 Balaklava Hospital/Health Service surgical decision minutes, it was noted ‘Formal notification of recent commissions visit to Balaklava was received today and all eight standards have been recommended as met,’ so if the standards have been met, the question remains as to why the theatre is being closed.

The nursing staff who gathered at Balaklava Hospital on Monday agreed with Dr Lemon who said without surgery, local patients will find themselves tacked onto ever extending waiting lists in the public system.

“We don’t want to have to ‘ramp’ and take up beds at other city/suburban hospitals which are all overcrowded already – and we’ll have to travel more and rely on others,” Erika and Lynne said.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) (SA Branch) also has grave concerns for the community’s safety as hospitals across the state continue to see unacceptably high numbers of people waiting for appropriate care.

“It is clear our health system is not able to cope. It is time for Premier Marshall and the Health Minister to show leadership and take action now,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said.

In Mr Kirchner’s statement, it said the change in service delivery will provide resources to fund other service opportunities within Balaklava Hospital, with a redeveloped consulting suite to enable visiting surgeons to consult within the local community.

“SA Health advised nursing staff from Balaklava Hospital will be provided the opportunity to continue to work from Clare Hospital on scheduled surgery dates.

“As part of our ongoing service planning, we will be providing the community further opportunities for feedback and engagement on the future of health service delivery at Balaklava Hospital,” he stated.

Details of any community forums will be published once a date is known.

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