Graham Burger at the Tweed Heads Hospital. Photo: John Gass / Tweed Daily News
Graham Burger at the Tweed Heads Hospital. Photo: John Gass / Tweed Daily News John Gass

Doctor: ‘It is complete torture’

IT'S SUPPOSED to be dignified, as pain-free as possible and safe, but at the Tweed Hospital death for the terminally ill does not come peacefully.

Palliative ward director Dr Graeme Burger said dementia patients, who should be in a separate unit, wander the halls, shout through the night, climb into dying patients' beds and fiddle with life-saving equipment.

Instead of helping dying patients come to terms with anger, depression, grief and acceptance of their mortality, clinical staff are wasting time "troubleshooting" problems on the ward with the dementia patients, Dr Burger said.

"I defy any politician to spend a night in a ward with acute delirium patients. It is complete torture," he said.

The 32-bed facility, which treats about 800 patients a year, has not been expanded since the 1990s.

According to Dr Burger it's been "forgotten" by the Health Ministry and has had funding slashed, losing a clinical nurse and palliative specialist for several days a week.

"I pleaded with the area health service to address this issue and they promised a solution," Dr Burger said.

"The hospital agreed, however the area health service simply said 'no'."

The result is patients are forced to stay in the emergency department, which is at breaking point treating more patients than Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital.

Up to three palliative patients a week "block" ED beds because there's no palliative bed or clinical nurse to discharge a dead patient.

The ward also relies "entirely" on volunteers from Tweed Palliative Support for respite services and donations for equipment and respite.

"We need the community to say that enough is enough and tell whatever government is in power to support the most frail and needy people in their community to live their final days in the best ways possible," Dr Burger said.

In the hospital's redevelopment plan a four-bed Acute Delirium Unit was promised by 2017.

At time of print there were five delirium patients in the palliative ward. Demand can climb to up to seven patients a day.


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