Bolt cutters rejected for operation on Bega hospital patient

A pair of bolt cutters purchased at a hardware store and denied use in the operating theatre has been a bone of contention between a surgeon and hospital management. 

A patient of Chris Phoon’s spoke to the Bega District News this week in support of his surgeon, saying he was being unfairly treated and his expertise ignored by South East Regional Hospital management.

David Rosseland of Wolumla said a serious compound fracture of his leg has required multiple visits to the operating table since late January, and pins, screws and a plate put in.

One large steel pin went through his ankle and protruded either side as part of the stabilising of his leg. 

Dr Phoon said his patient was seen by a locum at the SERH, who inserted this steel pin not knowing the hospital hadn’t replaced surgical bolt cutters required to take it out. The cutters were broken during a surgery late last year.

He said this was something the local surgeons were aware of, so they would not have performed the same initial operation.

Dr Phoon said he was told by management new bolt cutters would not arrive for three months. So he purchased a $200 pair of high tensile steel bolt cutters from a Canberra hardware store and brought them to SERH. 

“Cutters like these are used in numerous hospitals, they’re a basic bit of equipment,” he said. 

But he claims when he approached hospital management with the proposal to sterilise the bolt cutters for the operation, they said they were “not prepared to make that kind of decision” and would not ask for the opinion of another specialist. 

A health district spokesperson said new “fit-for-purpose” cutters are on order from the accredited overseas surgical equipment supplier and “there was no guarantee the bolt cutters purchased by Dr Phoon met any of the specifications as set down by NSW Health Guidelines”.

Southern NSW Local Health District takes patient care extremely seriously and ensures that all materials and equipment meet the NSW Health Guidelines standards,” the spokesperson said.

In the end, Mr Rosseland had to be transferred to Canberra with his badly broken leg then waited an additional four days to have the operation to remove the pin.

Dr Phoon said the procedure would have involved risks, but management needed to listen to its specialists’ advice when assessing risks. 

“Part of being a doctor is making the best decision you can with the best information available,” he said.

Mr Rosseland wanted to know why SERH did not have bolt cutters since before Christmas. 

“How can a $187million hospital not have the most basic piece of equipment?” he asked.

A spokesperson for the Southern NSW Local Health District said after the original pair of hospital bolt cutters were broken during surgery management contacted other health districts looking to borrow a spare pair, but were unable to source any.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Phoon finished up at the South East Regional Hospital on Tuesday in a decision he says is "payback" for speaking out on management decisions.


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