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Vic nurses shortage causes infant surgery del -

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Vic nurses shortage causes infant surgery delays

The World Today - Monday, 14 April , 2008 12:18:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

LISA MILLAR: A shortage of intensive care nurses in Victoria means babies are waiting months for
urgent open heart surgery, according to the chief of surgery at the Royal Children's Hospital.

Cancellations have more than doubled over the past year and in some cases children have had their
operations postponed seven times. Parents are being told funding shortfalls and too much red tape
are to blame.

The Brumby Government is passing on that blame, claiming the Howard Government continually
neglected the number of places made available for training.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: Karina Innes' eight-year-old son Kevin has a hole in his heart.

KARINA INNES: He's very small for his age. He spends a lot of the energy he uses is basically just
on breathing.

ALISON CALDWELL: Diagnosed last July, his surgery has been cancelled twice. A private patient,
Karina Innes says he's been bumped down the waiting list in favour of younger children and babies,
but in the meantime, his condition is deteriorating.

KARINA INNES: In the last six months, Kevin stops breathing at night, and you were saying, "At
eight o'clock, okay, let's get ready for school," and he's tired. There's some weeks where he can
only manage school two days a week.

ALISON CALDWELL: Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital treats babies and young children not only
from Victoria, but South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales as well.

Heartkids Victoria supports families whose children need cardiac surgery. President Scott Reinke
says cancellations have increased dramatically over the past 12 months.

SCOTT REINKE: The normal level of cancellations runs at about seven a week, this year we seem to be
more to around 16 and in this month alone we're up to 30 already. So, we're getting a lot of
children having to have their operations cancelled, sometimes up to four or even seven times and
it's causing a lot of distress for families, but also medical concern issues.

The longer it's delayed, sometimes the worse the condition can be for the child, so they start

LEO DONNAN: At present, it is just under control, but if the day-to-day almost hour-to-hour juggle
that we continue.

ALISON CALDWELL: That's the chief of surgery at the Royal Children's Hospital, Dr Leo Donnan. He
says the problem isn't with beds, but with a shortage of nurses.

LEO DONNAN: It's not because of a lack of theatre times, not because of lack of surgeons and not
because of lack of the ability to do the work, it's really because we haven't got the staff to open
those beds up, although we are at currently at full capacity.

ALISON CALDWELL: Dr Donnan puts it down to the so called baby boom and says the hospital has gone
on a recruitment drive for an extra 14 nurses before winter.

The State's Health Minister Daniel Andrews wasn't available for an interview.

A spokesman accused the former Howard government of neglecting training places for over a decade.
He said the Brumby Government was now working with the Rudd Government to tackle skills shortages,
including specialist nursing staff.

The Opposition's Health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the problem is symptomatic of an overall
failure on the part of the Brumby Government to provide for the future of Victoria's hospitals.

HELEN SHARDEY: Victorians are heartily sick of the blame game. There has been a disgraceful neglect
and poor funding of our hospitals and of course this is now causing a major problem for the sickest
in our community and the youngest.

ALISON CALDWELL: The hospital's chief of surgery says this is about a shortage of nurses. The
Brumby Government points to what it says is the Howard Government's neglect of skills training.

HELEN SHARDEY: The issue of nursing, as I understand it from hospital sources, is that there is a
problem with retention of nurses, that is, keeping nurses in the system. The policy taken to the
last election by the Liberal Party would have offered better pay and conditions, particularly for
ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurses, so that they will stay in their jobs and provide the service
needed for our children.

ALISON CALDWELL: But that's little comfort for Karina Innes and her son Kevin, who's still waiting
for an operation.

KARINA INNES: We're yet to get a new date for his surgery, and it's just frustrating because we
know what the problem is, we know how to fix it, but we can't, we're stuck in, we're stuck in the
cake, basically.

LISA MILLAR: Karina Innes, ending Alison Caldwell's report.