Latrobe Regional Hospital Pharmacy staffing crisis worsens

Staffing and resourcing issues in the Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH) pharmacy had reached such a low point in May 2013 that the Director and Deputy Director resigned, citing their frustration and anger at LRH’s executive management’s refusal to help, or even recognise their genuine concerns.

LRH’s public response at the time was to deny the allegations aired on behalf of the Directors and dogmatically maintain there were no problems in the pharmacy.

Since that time pharmacists have highlighted their concerns about the pharmacy and attempted to convince LRH to employ more staff. All of their concerns have been ignored with LRH refusing to even acknowledge there are any problems with staffing or workloads.

The situation has now reached a critical point. In a week’s time the level of permanent pharmacists will reduce to 4.0 EFT. The EFT level in May 2013, that even the Directors argued at the time was dangerously low, was 12.0 EFT. The department has lost 75% of its permanent pharmacists in a little over 4 months and LRH management are still refusing to acknowledge there is a staffing and workload crisis. It beggars belief that there could not be.

Not surprisingly, pharmacists at LRH are desperate to get help. Members are suffering under an impossibly high workload and have begun to report stress and anxiety related illnesses that treating doctors have diagnosed as directly related to their work circumstances.

Staff are equally distressed that standards of clinical care will be compromised and have continually raised their fears for the welfare of patients given circumstances in the pharmacy.

The LRH executive management response has been twofold. A pharmacist has been threatened with action for breaching LRH clinical procedures by not reporting interventions in the time frame required, despite pharmacy operational management having earlier “exempted” pharmacists from the need to report incidents as required because the manager recognised there are not enough staff to complete all of their work and therefore there is a need to prioritise to ensure at least critical clinical functions are done. This has placed pharmacists at risk of disciplinary action for not complying with procedure even though they simply do not have enough time to dispense medication to patients and perform other tasks.

The other response from LRH management has been yet again to publicly deny there is any problem in the pharmacy and attack the Union for portraying the workload problem in the pharmacy as a crisis.

It is a matter profound concern that any hospital management would for hospital budget reasons completely dismiss the concerns of staff in circumstances that self-evidently demand help and support. The events in the LRH pharmacy are a stark illustration of how fairness and reason appear to have slipped down the order of the values of executive management of public hospitals.

An application for the Fair Work Commission to assist in resolving this dispute has now been made by the Union.

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