WA shadow health minister Libby Mettam concerned about surgery cancellations at Bunbury hospital

WA Shadow health minister Libby Mettam.
WA Shadow health minister Libby Mettam.

The Bunbury Regional Hospital has come under fire again with WA shadow health minister Libby Mettam saying it was reaching "crisis point" due to lack of staff when she put in a grievance motion in parliament on November 18.

Ms Mettam said the ongoing elective surgery cancellations were causing whole lists patients being cut due to lack of theatre staff.

"The Western Australian Country Health Service has asked surgeons to prioritise urgent category 1 cases, over boundary and patients close to boundary and delay all other patients if possible for the month of November, with further restrictions to continue," she said.

However Bunbury Regional Hospital director Jeff Calver said prioritising elective surgeries according to clinical risk throughout peak periods was "business as usual".

"This is done to ensure priority is given to emergency and urgent cases and may result in less urgent surgeries being postponed," he said.

"Our current operating capacity is aligned to workforce and bed availability. In November we have rescheduled around 100 elective surgeries."

Ms Mettam said the ongoing cuts to elective surgeries were completely unacceptable and "no doubt adding to the medical complexity of patient cases".

"The elective surgery restrictions were first imposed in July, then again in September and from November 1 I've been advised that the cuts will mean one theatre is out of action most days and is expected to remain that way until at least the start of next year," she said.

"To have five months of interruptions and cancellations is astounding but to now also have to severely restrict access to theatres due to a lack of staff, without any COVID cases in the community, points to a government that has been asleep at the wheel and one that is putting the health of regional patients further at risk.

"The cancellations of whole lists of scheduled patients, who may have been waiting many months for their surgery, is distressing for both surgical staff and patients alike.

"I've been advised that these restrictions have resulted in the cancellation of about 200 patients this month alone, with many more likely to be impacted on other lists in other theatres at the hospital as they are bumped or cancelled due to more urgent cases arising.

"For some patients the earliest they can be rescheduled is currently April next year. However, as more operating lists are cancelled, I'm advised the patient waiting times will blow out much further."

WA health minister Roger Cook fired back at Ms Mettam's motion in parliament by saying her premise for the grievance was "entirely wrong" because Bunbury hospital was maintaining the use of all three theatres.

"Bunbury Hospital has not closed its theatres, but it is true that it is operating at a reduced theatre capacity aligned with workforce availability," he said.

"Theatre activity has been supported across the south west region, with some surgical activity moving to Busselton Health Campus and staff from other sites supporting Bunbury Hospital.

"Short, medium and long-term workforce strategies are being progressed to manage significant staff fatigue and wellbeing issues."

The Mail has asked to see confirmation of cancellation numbers from the Bunbury Regional Hospital and Libby Mettam.