Modifications have been made to Inverell District Hospital to address a number of customer service issues raised late last year.
New staff, GP succession planning, more telehealth options and the first digital medical record system at a New England hospital are just some of the changes being made.
Michael DiRienzo, chief executive, Hunter New England Health (HNEH) met with Inverell Shire Council to discuss both the changes already implemented and those still in the pipeline.
"I had a really good meeting with Paul Harmon, Mayor of Inverell yesterday afternoon and I was pleased to be able to provide an update on the actions taken since our last meeting in December," Mr DiRienzo said.
HNEH came under attack from Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall in November when he used a speech in State Parliament to demand the regional health service take immediate steps to address community complaints regarding the standard of care being provided to patients at the newly upgraded hospital.
"I can report that a number of our strategies have already been implemented and many more are in the process of being worked through," Mr DiRienzo said.
"We have a detailed plan to address the infrastructure concerns that were raised, and our executive director of infrastructure recently met with staff and community members in Inverell to understand the challenges and develop practical solutions."
As a result of that meeting Mr DiRienzo said HNEH have already made modifications to various parts of the hospital to improve workflow and processes for staff, and to make spaces more comfortable for patients.
"We will be expanding the Emergency Department waiting room to allow more space for those waiting for care," he said.
"A new steriliser will be installed, and work benches will be modified to make the sterilising process more efficient.
"We will add dedicated drop off areas for patients to the new Community Health building.
"There will be increased parking for patients, including more disabled spaces, and we will also improve staff parking amenities.
Mr DiRienzo also confirmed the existing helipad will be reinstated with some minor improvements and announced Inverell will become the first site in the New England region to move to a Digital Medical Record system.
"This will reduce the space required to store physical medical records, and will be a more reliable and efficient process for staff," he said.
"In relation to the clinical and operational issues raised, I can report that Hunter New England Health has engaged with the New England Rural Succession planning group to develop a multi-agency recruitment action plan.
"This plan will focus on recruiting GPs and GP proceduralists.
"While general practitioners and primary healthcare are a Federal responsibility and are not managed by NSW Health, we recognise we all have a role to play in supporting healthcare in rural areas.
"The Inverell Medical Centre has recently commenced two new GP Registrars in their practice, and Hunter New England Health will negotiate their inclusion on the hospital roster."
HNEH has recently recruited a new emergency department nurse unit manager, and the successful applicant is scheduled to commence by the end of April.
"We are also in the process of advertising and recruiting to more general nursing vacancies," Mr DiRienzo said.
In relation to issues raised about transfers to larger hospitals, Mr DiRienzo said his team was in the process of reviewing all transfers from the last 12 months and identifying areas where HNEH could focus more on delivering services via telehealth to ensure patients can receive their treatment close to home where possible.
"An action plan will be developed and I am happy to report back to the community when this is complete," he said.
"There will also be a renewed focus on our Excellence program in Inverell.
"Excellence - Every Patient, Every Time, is a program implemented at all facilities throughout the Hunter New England Local Health District.
"Excellence provides a framework that delivers sustainable culture change that ensures accountability, innovation and focuses on excellent patient outcomes and great patient experience."
On top of the bigger issues, there are many smaller things hospital staff and community raised that have also been actioned according to Mr DiRienzo.
"While minor, these were important to ensure staff and the community have the best possible experience while working at and visiting the hospital," he said.
"I'm proud of the work that has gone into addressing the actions so far, and I look forward to keeping the community updated as we have further progress to report."
The Inverell Times tried to contact Mayor Paul Harmon for comment but was unsuccessful.
Mr DiRienzo will meet with MP Adam Marshall in Armidale on Wednesday to inform him of the changes.
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