Nursing service problems remain

Royal District Nursing Service client Rose Thornley (left) chats to Dunedin South MP Clare Curran...
Royal District Nursing Service client Rose Thornley (left) chats to Dunedin South MP Clare Curran about problems in her home care service. Photo by Linda Robertson.
A Dunedin MP and a multiple sclerosis sufferer say problems in the Royal District Nursing Service have still not been fixed. They spoke to health reporter Eileen Goodwin.

A Dunedin woman who received a Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) ordered apology from the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) says she still has a substandard service, and relevant agencies do not seem interested.

Rose Thornley has multiple sclerosis, and is supported in her complaint by Dunedin South MP Clare Curran. The Labour MP wants to hear from people having similar problems, and says the situation needs an investigation.

RDNS has had problems in the South for months - at one stage the Southern District Health Board suspended new referrals - and it shifted rostering back to Dunedin, and made other improvements. But the pair say there are still serious problems.

Ms Thornley complained to the HDC in March about having up to nine different carers a week, some of whom did not know her name.

Appointment times were erratic, and she had been unable to plan or undertake social activities. The Auckland based call centre was difficult to reach. When calls were answered, staff had little concept of the Dunedin area.

At one stage Ms Thornley had norovirus, and had to suspend her care for six days, because RDNS was unaware of contagious diseases protocols. This month, HDC told RDNS to apologise, and has referred the case to the Ministry of Health.

On Friday, Ms Thornley said that she had had seven different carers in the past week. There had been an episode of rostering confusion, and an attempt to reduce her care hours. Carers had a very difficult job, and were doing their best, she said.

''I've had all sorts of crazy stuff going on this week.

''Good communication is not that hard.''

Ms Thornley said it was unclear which agency had ultimate responsibility: ''Everybody's ducking.''

The apology from RDNS chief executive Todd Perkinson was general and did not say how the problems would be fixed. Last month, the Otago Daily Times was told the shortcomings with the RDNS call centre were being fixed.

When the ODT tried to contact the call centre last week to ask about Ms Thornley's concerns, the call was unanswered and the line went dead. The ODT contacted the RDNS parent company in Melbourne for a response.

Mr Perkinson told the ODT new technology installed last Thursday had improved the call centre's pick up times.

''We've been doing the reviews and we've been fixing a lot of things the whole time.

''We're looking at continuous improvement.

''There's a lot of intricacies around client and staff movement,'' Mr Perkinson said.

Mr Perkinson also confirmed RDNS was trialling a system of GPS tracking on mobile devices with a quarter of its carers. He said the company was aware of privacy implications, but the carers had consented.

The health board had received 17 complaints about RDNS in the six months to April 1. In March, the board suspended new referrals to the service, lifting the restriction at the end of April.

Appointment scheduling, which had been shifted to Auckland, had been shifted back to Dunedin and other local centres, the six monthly report says.

Extra call centre staff and carers had been hired, as well as a Dunedin team leader, and a South Island service delivery manager.

Health board planning and funding director Sandra Boardman said RDNS notified the board on June 12 it was making changes to improve its call centre, but ''that there might be some problems over the next days''.

''We will continue to follow up with RDNS,'' Ms Boardman said.

The board shifted from 17 providers to three in 2013, which was ''not about saving money but about providing better care'', Ms Boardman said.

Ms Curran said the home care shake up, which included the dumping of Presbyterian Support Otago, had clearly led to a downgrade.

''If it's not the Health and Disability Commissioner's responsibility to do some digging and find out the extent of the problem, whose is it?

''If it's the Ministry of Health's responsibility, then where are they?''

A Ministry of Health spokesman said he had been unable to find the ''right person'' to answer the ODT's questions.

The ODT has also lodged questions with the Health and Disability Commissioner.

-eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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