Air-con breakdown halts surgeries at major Adelaide hospital

A malfunctioning air-conditioning system at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has caused hundreds of elective surgeries to be postponed and emergency patients to be transferred to other hospitals, InDaily can reveal.

Mar 09, 2016, updated Mar 09, 2016
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Patients requiring emergency surgery had to be transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and about 100 elective surgeries had to be postponed, during a three-day period last fortnight, and the system has broken down once again.

The current malfunction has caused about 90 elective surgeries to be postponed, and the most serious elective surgeries are today being transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Doctors say patients from country South Australia, including cancer patients, have arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) only to be told their surgery has been cancelled because of the malfunctioning system.

South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association senior industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland said doctors had been told fixing the air-conditioning system could cost around $250,000.

“The patients are arriving on the day, only to be told that [the hospital] cannot conduct the surgery because of some problem with the air-conditioning system,” she told InDaily.

“Doctors advise that the patients come from [both] country and metropolitan areas.

“There is a very high degree of frustration that this problem [has not] been resolved quickly so that [doctors] can conduct the surgeries that they are required to perform.

“They are very disappointed that this matter hasn’t been addressed with the appropriate priority [and] speed.”

Mulholland said dehumidifiers had been brought in as a “temporary measure”.

Central Adelaide Local Health Network chief operating officer Todd McEwan said air-conditioning in the QEH emergency operating theatre was still working, and that all emergency surgeries were now going ahead.

“A technical fault in the operating theatres air-conditioning at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has resulted in approximately 90 non-urgent elective surgery procedures being postponed,” McEwan said.

“Air-conditioning in the emergency operating theatre is functioning and all emergency surgeries are going ahead.

“Technicians are currently on site working to rectify the issue. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank patients for their understanding.”

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SA Health did not respond to questions about whether any patients had suffered health consequences because of increased temperatures and humidity in some parts of the hospital, nor to questions about the cost of fixing the system.

It is also unclear how many days the system has been out of action during the latest breakdown.

Inadequate airflow can increase the risk of infections during surgery because of bacteria in the air.

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons SA Chair Dr Sonja Latzel told InDaily reduced airflow during surgery was particularly dangerous during orthopaedic procedures.

She said complications from infections during these procedures can be severe.

Latzel told InDaily this afternoon that air-conditioning was back, up and running, in elective surgery theatres, but elective surgeries were still being cancelled at the hospital because of concerns about humidity.

She said surgeons she had spoken to were satisfied SA Health was doing what it could to fix the problem, but there was concern about the time it would take to do so.

A spokesperson for the college said that “we would hope that this is resolved as quickly as possible, as restrictions in airflow is not just a comfort issue but also a safety one”.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Janice Fletcher was unavailable for comment when contacted by InDaily this morning.

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