STAFF at Fremantle Hospital were told Thursday morning to brace for another round of job losses, adding to the 70-odd announced last month.
An estimated 400 staff heard executive director David Blythe state the hospital will be scaled back even further than first announced, with the intensive care unit downgraded to a “high dependency” unit.
It comes as WA health minister Kim Hames faces increasing pressure over a critical shortage of beds which last week saw patients at Fiona Stanley Hospital wheeled into the gym and given hand bells to alert nurses.
The latest cuts are designed to rein in the health department’s ballooning budget.
“He was measured, but it was bad news he had to deliver to us,” a nurse reported of Mr Blythe’s demeanour, stressing he’s a “lovely man”.
Julie, who didn’t want her surname used because the department bans employees from voicing their opinions publicly, says Mr Blythe didn’t outline how many jobs will go, but it was “lots”.
“I don’t know where I will be employed next year,” she says.
“I’m a registered nurse, but I’m working in a safety and quality role, and you want your patients to be safe and experience quality care.”
Julie, who’s been at the hospital more than 20 years, says there was no talk of voluntary redundancies, even though they were flagged earlier in the day by premier Colin Barnett.
She says hearing about the job losses just before Christmas makes it even harder to bear, although staff have become used to living with uncertainty following Fiona Stanley’s opening.
On Wednesday the hospital’s nurses, physiotherapists, cleaners and administrative staff joined colleagues from Royal Perth in striking over the new job losses.
Tear the heart out
WA Labor leader Mark McGowan says the cuts will “tear the heart out of the Fremantle community” and he predicts many beds will be shut down.
“It will just be a day surgery and it shows that all the promises about the future of Fremantle hospital were a lie.”
Labor health shadow Roger Cook was critical of the health department for not providing staff with more concrete information about who’s likely to lose their jobs.
Mr Blythe had told staff that level of detail hadn’t been decided yet, but Mr Cook says that’s unlikely: he believes the department’s hierarchy will know exactly what’s planned, and which positions are targeted.
Fremantle state Labor MP Simone McGurk fears the hospital will simply become somewhere for the department to send old people.
She says the department has been neglecting Fremantle while it struggles with ongoing troubles at s Fiona Stanley. As a result it is chronically under-utilised.
Ms McGurk has obtained figures that show that on one day in November, nearly a third of the available beds at the hospital were empty.
That includes all 30 beds at the Gage discharge lounge, and almost half the beds in wards B7N and B7S.
“This is at the time we hear that Fiona Stanley is at capacity,” the MP told the Herald.
The hospital is also faring poorly at getting people into elective surgery. Figures show about 10 per cent of patients aren’t going under the knife within the recommended time, far behind other general hospitals (Joondalup missed the deadline just 1.5 per cent of the time).
“Apart from wait times, Freo is also not amping up elective surgery cases to the level it was expected to following the closure of Kaleeya and also compared with other general hospitals,” Ms McGurk says.
The Herald contacted the hospital’s media team for comment, but got the message they were out of the office. Earlier in the day, though, they’d been panther-like when the Chook walked in the hospital’s front door. Before we’d had a chance to cross the foyer they were on the phone wanting to know what we were doing there with a camera (for the record, we were looking for the loo).
by STEVE GRANT