Culture of bullying, harassment, poor leadership at brand new Bega hospital, report finds

Bega orthopaedic surgeon Chris Phoon.
Bega orthopaedic surgeon Chris Phoon.

An orthopaedic surgeon whose contract was not renewed - precipitating a damning review into the culture of his hospital - says he was not told about a second, secret review into his own performance when he believed he was contributing to the inquiry.

Dr Chris Phoon, who brought attention to the under-resourcing of the South East Regional Hospital in Bega when he brought his own bolt cutters to an operation, said he had not been told about the release of the report until he was contacted by Fairfax Media.

He had been summonsed to an interview for what he thought was a review of surgical services at the hospital, but only learned later through a freedom of information request that it was an inquiry into his own clinical practice.

"When I went to the interview it was a very adversarial session which is why I went and put in a freedom of information request to find out what was really going on," Dr Phoon said.

A review of South East Regional Hospital released on Tuesday uncovered a dysfunctional working environment beset by bullying and harassment, poor leadership and under-resourcing since it opened in Bega in March last year.

Wards remained unopened because doctors and nurses had not been hired to staff them, cobwebs had amassed on the window sills while the cleaning contract had not been put to tender and the local health district had provided minimal support and oversight.

"Whilst there was a great deal of investment in and attention paid to the capital requirements in building SERH, it appears that there was minimal investment in the people and the culture desired in the new hospital," the report found.

"When analysed against the District values of collaboration, openness, respect and empowerment, it is clear that these values are not "lived values" at SERH...

"As a consequence of this poor culture, there appears to be an unacceptable level of bullying and harassment which requires rectification."

Orthopaedic surgeon Matthew Nott said he had also unwittingly contributed to the inquiry into Dr Phoon's performance in the belief that it was a more general review of orthopaedic surgery.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard ordered the independent review into the operation and management of South East Regional Hospital in March in response to concerns among medical staff and the Bega community about the functioning of the hospital.

About 500 people had attended a community meeting following the district's decision not to renew Dr Phoon's contract and raised concerns about a high staff turnover, increased waiting lists and bigger workloads at the state-of-the-art facility.

They unanimously voted to demand an apology from the local health district for the way that Dr Phoon and the community had been treated.

Opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said the situation at Bega had been repeated in new hospital builds around NSW where wards were lying empty due to lack of staff.

"In Bega you have this ludicrous situation where you have this beautiful brand new hospital and waiting lists are longer than they were at the old clapped out one," Mr Secord said.

"The inquiry reveals a serious crisis in leadership.

"They funded the bricks and mortar - but they forgot about the patients."

Mr Hazzard said he would implement all the recommendations of the reviewers.

"There are a range of issues which have caused me sufficient concern that I've had personal discussions with management of the local health district," Mr Hazzard said.

"I'm now hopeful that this report sets a clear direction to get on with what the local community needs, and that's for an A1 functioning hospital."

The local health district was asked to comment on the reasons given to Dr Phoon for his interview, but had not responded by deadline.