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Safework SA: Lyell McEwin ED unsafe!

Lyell McEwin Hospital’s Emergency Department is so overwhelmed and understaffed that SafeWork SA has taken the dramatic step of formally issuing safety notices against SA Health.

Last week (8 December), the Weatherill Government’s own occupational health and safety watchdog issued two Improvement Notices on the Hospital’s management for contravening South Australia’s Work Health and Safety Act 2012.

“The SafeWork SA notices highlighted that the Lyell McEwin ED was so overcrowded that staff were under duress and were so busy that their health and safety was threatened,” said Shadow Health Minister Stephen Wade.

“The situation was so bad that on that day the ED team considered going beyond code white and activating a state of emergency.”

The SA Health dashboard shows that the safety inspection came nine hours in to a thirteen hour stretch where the Lyell McEwin Emergency Department was operating at code white non-stop.

At the same time, nursing and medical staff working in the ED have begun to wear purple clothing in an effort to highlight the seriousness of the safety concerns for both patients and staff.

The report of the union safety representative who accompanied the SafeWork inspector paints a disturbing scene:

  • There were almost twice as many people in the ED than its capacity (78 v 40); 
  • There were 45 patients in the waiting area, 10 lined up against a window, 1 in a police area and 2 in ambulances; 
  • The pressure was enormous and extremely challenging; 
  • Medical officers considered that the situation was “professionally unsafe” such that patients were not getting “appropriate and sufficient care”; 
  • The Intensive Care Unit was full and was not accepting referrals from the ED; 
  • Patients were placed on barouches or in ad hoc spaces, such as the decontamination shower, which lack access to the necessary equipment; 
  • High acuity patients could not be transferred to the RAH as they were not accepting patients.

The report raises the need for a capital upgrade to the ED: the Lyell McEwin ED “was unsuitable for both patients and staff and not fit for purpose”.

SA Health has been repeatedly advised but had done “nothing to address the issue”.