ED staff boosted, threat withdrawn

John Chambers
John Chambers
An ''intimidatory'' threat of disciplinary action against a Dunedin Hospital doctor has been dropped after months of negotiations with the Southern District Health Board, his union says.

The senior doctors' union is claiming a win from the dispute, saying a decision to increase specialist staffing in the emergency department (ED) is thanks to Dr John Chambers and his colleagues' advocacy.

''It's been a long battle for them, and they've succeeded,'' Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Ian Powell said.

Dr Chambers, an ED specialist, has faced a possible formal first warning for last year publicly criticising comments by the board's chief executive over the department's difficulties. He was speaking as a union representative, and the discipline threat sparked concern in the medical community, and led to questions in Parliament of Health Minister Tony Ryall.

Health board medical directorate acting medical director Brendon Rae, in an email, indicated the board was in the process of adding 2.9 full-time equivalent specialists to the department. It brought the specialist staffing level to 11 full-time equivalents.

Ian Powell
Ian Powell
''This was done following work last year looking at patient patterns and staff rosters,'' Dr Rae said. Last August, nine ED specialists wrote to chief executive Carole Heatly to warn the department needed more specialists to cope with the addition of a 10-bed observation unit, which the board rejected at the time.

The board was close to appointing a clinical leader for the department, a position vacant for nearly a year after specialist Dr Tim Kerruish stepped down in protest over staffing levels.

The board referred questions about Dr Chambers to the union. Mr Powell, in a union newsletter, said while the situation should never have arisen, it led to the positive outcome of increased staffing.

''If there is any consolation the persistent efforts and advocacy by himself and his colleagues has borne fruit with a subsequent agreement reached to improve staffing levels in the emergency department.''

The board had appeared to believe it was under pressure from the Government to take a hard line with Dr Chambers and the union, Mr Powell said.

''This would help explain why the DHB's behaviour was like a possum in the headlights.''

Dr Chambers said, when contacted, he was happy the board made the ''correct decision'' after prolonged deliberation.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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