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Problems came to a head before Christmas when the board had to postpone elective surgery and then limit the number of operations at the start of January.
The task force was discussed at a board meeting in Dunedin yesterday, where board members were told staff burnout and distress, a high occupancy rate of hospital beds and delays in care for patients were a call to action.
An action leadership group will meet frequently, provide weekly updates and remain accountable for supporting rapid improvement.
In his report to the board, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said too many staff, particularly nurses, had to cover for vacancies and gaps and they had been placed under unreasonable pressure.
Some hospital beds in Dunedin and Invercargill were not available for patients because staff could not be present to assist.
It was also inconvenient for patients if planned surgery, for example, was cancelled at the last minute, Mr Fleming said.
Action group member Nigel Millar said goals would be set for patient flow.
Strategies would include striving to review during mornings whether and when patients could be moved on to the next stage of care, and making patients aware of expected discharge dates.
Dr Millar said stress associated with Covid-19 lockdowns, as well as patients putting off treatment and then having more complex needs, may have been among the problems that contributed to a bottleneck before Christmas.
However, longer-term problems also needed to be faced, he said.
Mr Fleming said the board needed to make changes immediately to ease pressure, but he was keen for improvements to become business as usual.
Action group member Kaye Cheetham said staff were feeling burdened and overwhelmed.
"We know this will make a difference," she said.
Board member Jean O’Callaghan said lasting change would be the proof of the taskforce’s success.
"Success will be when it’s actually the day job and not a project."