The opening of the new Lismore Base emergency department will not result in an immediate increase in capacity.
The ward is part of a $280 million redevelopment of the hospital.
The old 19-bed emergency ward consistently struggled to meet national benchmarks for the timely treatment of some patients.
The new facility, which accepted its first patients on Thursday morning, has the capacity for 54 patients, but visiting medical officer (VMO) Chris Gavaghan said only 19 beds would be open at this stage.
“Progressively, with a bit of future-proofing and thinking, we expect to be able to bring those resources on line as demand dictates,” he said.
“I’ve been here for over 20 years, and the emergency department’s grown enormously in terms of volume of presentations.
“The demand has continued to go up every year by 5% or more, and the capacity hasn’t really matched that.
“This building is obviously going to be with us for a good 20 to 40 years so we need to cater for that in the footprint that we’ve got.
“We’re not going to get a lot of extra footprint for the emergency department over the next 20 years, so we need to have that capacity built in now.”
Nursing union sorts out staffing issue
The union representing nurses said a dispute about staffing levels in the new emergency department was resolved at the eleventh hour.
Local branch secretary Gil Wilson said it was agreed an extra nurse would be rostered on for a 10-hour shift each night during a four-week trial period.
He said the decision made sense.
“We don’t want any teething problems to turn around and actually bite a patient,” Mr Wilson said.
“This is a massive department; it’s nearly four times the size [it was] … and Lismore needs this department to function.
“We know that new departments attract more patients [and we expect] at least 10 to 15% more patients will turn up at the new department.”
Chief executive of the Northern New South Wales Local Health District, Wayne Jones, said the extra capacity could be used in the event of a crisis.
“In the event that there’s more work coming through than we planned, there is capacity there to surge activity,” he said.
“So we should see a very immediate effect of reduced delays in ambulance off-loads, and for other peripheral hospitals, [less] delays in getting patients transferred from them to Lismore Base, because ambulances are not blocked [there].”