Union claims pharmacy staff health at risk

LATROBE Regional Hospital continues to be plagued by claims of workplace discontent in its pharmacy as it seeks to offset a spate of resignations.

On Friday the Health Services Union told The Express the number of ‘equivalent full-time’ LRH pharmacists would soon be reduced to four, down from 12 just six months ago.

After meeting with local staff, HSU assistant secretary Paul Elliott said the current situation was having “serious adverse impacts” on their “health and welfare” and negatively affecting departmental operations.

Woes at LRH’s pharmacy first came to light in May following the resignation of its director and deputy director amid what several sources said was mounting frustrations over resource shortages and inadequate provisions for appropriate medicine managements.

Other sources confirmed this week the situation had failed to improve, however LRH chief executive Peter Craighead refuted claims of under-resourcing, instead accusing the union of “scaremongering”.

Mr Craighead said a new pharmacy manager was due to start in October while recruitment was underway for grade two and three pharmacists to replace existing vacancies, including a retirement.

He said interviews would take place this week and further appointments would be made once the new manager was on board.

“In the meantime the hospital’s executive has the utmost confidence in our existing acting pharmacy manager and his team,” Mr Craighead said.

Mr Elliott said LRH’s response to the pharmacy’s problems to date had been inadequate.

“They are more intent on denying there is a workload problem, they won’t acknowledge it even exists,” he said.

He claimed the issues “seem to be peculiar to Gippsland” and “intolerably high” workloads had led to “despondent” workers “feeling permanently stressed and anxious”.

“Pharmacists believe reduced staff has reached the point where the pharmacy no longer has the capacity to perform all of the critical clinical functions required by LRH management,” he said.

Mr Elliott said one staffer reported she had sought medical treatment for conditions her doctor confirmed were “directly related to the pressure of work in the pharmacy”, while “others spoke of the detrimental impacts workload and other pressures were having on their health and personal lives”.

Mr Craighead, however, said he “rejected claims of high anxiety and stress levels in the pharmacy, while recognising the current workload”.

“We make it very clear that to manage workloads, non-essential services can be curtailed,” he said.

Mr Elliott contravened that statement, saying despite staff being told clinical work should be prioritised and reporting of medication errors could be delayed “to a time when staff could do it”, one staffer had recently received an email from a member of the LRH executive team admonishing her for not completing this reporting in a timely manner, referring to an alleged breach of LRH policy.

Mr Craighead did not comment on that claim but Mr Elliott said staff saw the email as evidence of “executive management’s refusal to recognise or accept the crisis that exists”.

Mr Craighead said, however, LRH was “focusing on the future and the continued delivery of safe, quality care”.