$340 million Queensland hospital under review for basic safety concerns

A medical specialist has exposed alarming risks to patient safety and “gross inefficiencies” at a new and supposedly glitzy hospital in Queensland.

The Surgical, Treatment and Rehabilitation Service (STARS) facility only opened to patients in March, hailed as a “digital ready hospital” with Health Minister Yvette D’Ath saying the technology would redefine patient care.

But just months on, a raft of critical and basic issues are being investigated after an anaesthetist warned of specialists being unable to access critical medicine, Covid-19 safety precautions not being followed, communication failures leading to patients missing procedures and at least two sewage pipe leaks.

In an email seen by NCA NewsWire, Metro North said the communication and drug distribution services were being reviewed to “ensure that technology does not impact on patient safety”.

STARS, along with the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and Sunshine Coast University Hospital, rely on an automated drug dispensing machine that regularly malfunctions and risks critical drugs being unavailable, according to the anaesthetist.

The specialist doctor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Pyxis, essentially a computerised drug supply station, was used by anaesthetists in the three hospitals and “all three of them have problems with them locking down and not letting people into them”.

She said the machine is supposed to have a specific function to allow critical medicine, such as ephedrine and midazolam, to be accessed during emergencies but the specialist said she was completely locked out on three occasions over a 10-week period.

“One time it took three days to fix,” she told NCA NewsWire.

$340 million Queensland hospital under review for basic safety concerns

Camera IconHerston Quarters' $340 million specialist centre. Credit: Supplied

“So what has happened at STARS is most of the anaesthetists don’t trust they can get emergency drugs in a hurry, so at the beginning of the day, they get a set of emergency drugs out, draw them up and leave them on their trolley.”

“They don't trust what would happen in an emergency situation because it has failed them before,” she said, stressing “when you need it (medicine), you need it 30 seconds ago”.

Although the correspondence said the concerns about Pyxis was under review, Queensland Health said there were no plans to remove the medication dispensing stations based on “overwhelmingly positive” feedback.

“There has been one formal incident involving Pyxis at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital,” the spokesperson said. “This was a software issue that was promptly rectified and had no impact on patients.”

The Metro North email revealed the integrated electronic medical record (ieMR) is also under investigation following concerns vulnerable portions of the population find the system too complicated to understand.

The anaesthetist said confusion caused by the system had resulted in up to 50 per cent of patients not showing up for important procedures on some days.

The STARS endoscopy department uses the technology to book gastroscopy and colonoscopies, despite the problematic system being aborted at another major Brisbane hospital because of similar concerns.

“They were using the electronic medical records functionality to do automated bookings so it would send out texts to the patients or email, which of course in the instance of the elderly population — which is a lot of people having colonoscopies — weren’t necessarily ever getting the text, seeing the text or understanding the text.

“Or (they were) not thinking the text was real and ignoring it.”

She said frustrations with the ieMR system were so great, the Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital had stopped using it to book patients but its use was continuing at STARS.

The doctor also said the errors within the electronic medical record system contributed to critical information about patients not being communicated properly.

She feared the structure and function inadequacies of the platform would cause a “tsunami of errors coming towards the safety of each patient.”

Queensland Health did not respond to questions about STARS attendance rates, but noted these appointments were well-attended at Princess Alexandra Hospital.

“PA Hospital continues to innovate with electronic systems to streamline processes but personalised care remains the priority,” the spokesperson said.

$340 million Queensland hospital under review for basic safety concerns

Camera IconPremier Annastacia Palaszczuk toured the facility earlier this year. NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled Credit: News Corp Australia

The concerning range of issues at the $340 million facility extends beyond hi-tech communication systems to basic infrastructure failures and the inability to comply with Covid-19 safety measures, the anaesthetist said.

Staff at the STARS facility were left distressed by the leaking of sewage pipes into the ceiling on two occasions in the last few weeks.

“Everyone thought it wouldn't happen a second time because they thought they had fixed it but apparently they hadn’t,” the anaesthetist said.

“There were rooms in admission that were closed off because it had come through the ceiling.”

The specialist doctor warned the gross failure in the brand new building could pose infection risks for vulnerable patients during operations.

“If you had it coming into operating theatres, which I don’t know if it did, there would be things like wound infections, IV-line infections and urinary tract infections because of sewage contaminating things that we didn’t know had actually contaminated,” she said.

Crucially, the experienced medical specialist was shocked by the failure to comply with basic Covid-19 measures for infection control.

“It's a non-covidsafe hospital that’s been opened during a pandemic,” the exasperated doctor said.

“If we had had a significant amount of Covid in Brisbane, I absolutely would have [felt unsafe].”

The hospital had no signs or directions to limit social distancing in tea rooms or most of the other rooms in the hospital, according to the whistleblower.

The doctor said she wasn't “at all” shocked that other hospitals in Brisbane were the source of Covid-19 outbreaks given “basic breaches” were committed at STARS.

“It doesn't surprise me at all that it spreads to hospitals like wildfire and I was particularly disappointed in STARS given the fundamental way they seem to operate is by hot-desking,” she said.

“It's crazy.”

The email from Metro North said the Infrastructure Committee was conducting a review and would provide a “recommended resolution”.

Despite this, Queensland Health said in a response to NCA NewsWire it had “very effective Covid-19 safe measures in place”.

“There is ample hand sanitiser at STARS,” the spokesperson said.

It also said the risk to patient and staff safety during the sewerage leaks was “very low and no harm was caused”.

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