WESTMEAD HOSPITAL is cancelling surgery at four times the rate the Health Department considers acceptable, and waiting times are so long some surgeons are refusing to add new patients to their operating lists.
About 8 per cent of elective surgery patients at the flagship Sydney University teaching hospital had their operation cancelled on the day of surgery, due to a shortage of post-surgical beds.
This was often after fasting and being prepared for theatre, said John Fletcher, chairman of the hospital's surgery division.
This did not include the many patients told not to come to hospital days before their scheduled operation.
Those cancellations - which Professor Fletcher said affected up to half of patients for some types of surgery - were not formally recorded.
Population growth, a jump in the proportion of emergency admissions last year from 41 to 45 per cent of all surgery, the designation of Westmead as a major trauma treatment centre, and the rigid enforcement of unrealistic bed budgets were behind the worsening shortage of beds for non-emergency surgery, he said.
Hospitals in western Sydney have suffered staff freezes and bed cuts due to debts that last year reached $26 million.
Doctors insist the quality of treatment at Westmead remains excellent, but they are frustrated they cannot accept more patients.
The neurosurgeon Brian Owler said he was under pressure from managers to schedule operations that had virtually no chance of taking place on the nominated day, but had begun to refuse.
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