‘Scurrilous accusations’ slammed

AS Latrobe Regional Hospital faces fresh claims of understaffing its pharmacy, hospital management has slammed the “scurrilous accusations”, insisting the staffing levels have increased.

Yesterday an arm of the Health Services Union accused LRH of having failed to replace staff as they left the pharmacy, effectively reducing staffing levels by almost half and forcing remaining pharmacists to cover up to 4.5 positions instead of one.

Association of Hospital Pharmacists (part of the HSU) Victorian assistant secretary Paul Elliott told The Express frustrations had grown among LRH pharmacy staff for some months over a situation he claimed now saw 10.5 full-time pharmacists employed on site, down from 19.5 who worked there previously.

He said the workforce numbers had steadily eroded and set key performance indicators for LRH were not being met as a result.

Mr Craighead, however, said the past four years had seen LRH’s pharmacy staffing “increased by 4.9 per cent EFT (equivalent full-time)” and staffing levels were “actually comparable to, or better than, our peers” despite a “backdrop of constrained health funding”.

Mr Elliott said set KPI’s meant LRH patients should be seen by a pharmacist within 24 hours of admission but under-resourcing meant that was now “running on an average of five and half days… and has been (on occasion) blown out to 14 days.”

Mr Craighead refuted Mr Elliott’s claim LRH’s clinical care was being impeded.

“Any claims that we are under-resourced or that patient safety has been compromised are mischievous,” Mr Craighead said.

“Medication and patient safety is a whole-of-hospital responsibility and one which we take very seriously.

“It is not just the domain of pharmacists but also that of doctors, nurses, allied health staff and carers.”

Mr Elliott maintained LRH pharmacy staff were distressed about a scenario which had seen their workloads “grow exponentially and to a point where it is now dysfunctional and unmanageable and impacting on their wellbeing”.

LRH issued a statement several weeks ago, in response to the sudden resignation of its director and deputy director of pharmacy amid claims of under-resourcing, which said an action plan of reforms would begin immediately in response to a 2012 independent review of LRH pharmacy services.

Yesterday Mr Elliott said staff “don’t even know what the reforms are”.

“What we do know is that there has been stiff opposition by hospital management to employing more pharmacists,” he said.

Mr Craighead, however, said a recruitment process had begun (following the director resignations) “as is usual when staff members resign”.

“In the meantime our acting director of pharmacy is managing the department in a very professional manner and we are getting on with the business of caring for our community,” he said.

Mr Craighead said locum pharmacists had been engaged to “cover any anticipated shortfall in resources as a result of the staff departures”.

Mr Elliott said a “management response” authorising more overtime and the use of locums “was not good enough”.

“Our position is that this is not a reasonable or responsible response by management – it does not address the staffing level crisis in any meaningful way…and it is them admitting there is a staff shortage,” he said.

Mr Craighead dismissed talk of a crisis and condemned what he called “scurrilous accusations by third parties”, saying they only served “to ignite unfounded fear within the community”.