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Staff trying to solve the Southern District Health Board’s bed block crisis have been told the organisation backs them, but that it wants to see results.
A board meeting yesterday received its first briefing from the patient flow task force, a group of senior managers asked to clear up issues with patients being unable to get into hospital because all resourced beds were already taken.
The problem has been severe for several weeks, and the SDHB briefly postponed elective surgery at the end of last year to try to ease the issue, affecting hundreds of people.
The board was told yesterday the task force had held several meetings and spent time in hospitals talking to staff about the issues they faced.
It was drafting performance targets for hospitals to achieve, and hoped to have that work completed today or tomorrow.
Board chairman Pete Hodgson said the targets were needed so the board could confirm if it was taking effective action to address a problem which had affected many patients.
"This cannot fail," he said.
"It is something of major importance, which is why this is going to be on our agenda for month after month after month.
"We back you, we want this to work, we want to be supportive."
Chief medical officer Nigel Millar, a task force member, said as well as upsetting patients, bed block had distressed staff and caused burnout.
Delays to surgery could cause harm to patients, and the task force wanted to make rapid gains Dr Millar said.
Acting chief allied health, scientific and technical officer Kaye Cheetham said the task force had taken part in "rapid rounds", where clinicians updated staff on the status of patients in their departments.
The executive leadership team had also made a point of being visible and showing leadership on patient flow.
Stranded patients — people who had been in hospital more than 21 days — were among the first issues considered by the task force.
While Southland Hospital might have only two or three each day, the phenomenon was more common in Dunedin , where more than 25 patients a day fell into that category.
However, Dr Millar stressed the object of the task force was not to discharge patients more quickly from hospital.
"Its focus is on giving people really good care, earlier ... We have the capability to make a real difference."
Community Health Council chairwoman Karen Brown had worked with the task force and said it was doing valuable work.
She said decisions about a patient’s stay in hospital needed to be made by them, not for them, and that work needed to be done to ensure everyone sent home from hospital had suitable support at home while they recovered.