A 12-bed unit at Wollongong Hospital is to close, sparking fears more patients will wait for treatment in the hospital’s already overrun emergency department.The Mercury understands the facility – the clinical decision unit – is being closed because it would cost the health service $200,000 to refurbish it to a safe standard.South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health said beds from the soon-to-be axed CDU unit would be used elsewhere in the hospital, but did not say where they would go.The CDU was originally intended for short-stay patients but has more recently been used for longer, more serious hospital stays when the emergency department overflows.Nurses worry that the beds will now be placed where they cannot accommodate the emergencies overflow.A source within the hospital told the Mercury the closure would place an added burden on emergency nurses working with too few beds, resources and colleagues. “At the moment, as opposed to coming into emergency and taking up a bed they don’t have, patients go to CDU,” the source said.”If they don’t go to CDU any more it’s going to be emergency’s problem.”The source said Wollongong emergency nurses were ill-equipped to cope with more patients because they had a disproportionately low number of beds to work with.According to the most recent quarterly hospital activity data, Nepean, St George and Wollongong hospitals have 12,843, 13,830 and 12,631 emergency department attendances respectively. The source claimed Nepean Hospital had 40 emergency beds, St George had 49 and Wollongong had 28.”We have the least number of emergency beds for the amount of patients we see and there’s senior nursing staff that go home in tears because they don’t have time to do nursing care anymore.” Area health representatives would not confirm the emergency bed figures yesterday and a spokeswoman for Wollongong Hospital said the comparison “wasn’t meaningful without looking at a range of factors including number of presentations annually, complexity of patient presentations and design of the ED (emergency department)”. According to the spokeswoman a move towards “more innovative models of care” was behind the decision to close the CDU. She said the changes would relieve pressure on the hospital’s emergency department by vacating treatment bays for urgent patients.But NSW Nurses Association organiser Lisa Kremmer said the closure was a financial decision.”We were advised that the area didn’t have the necessary capital (about $200,000) to carry out the refurbishments required … so the health service has made a decision to close the unit because of the cost of refurbishment,” she said.
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