Former Buderim Private Hospital general manager Wallis Westbrook (top left) and neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Byrne. Concerns have been raised about the new management at the UnitingCare owned hospital.
Former Buderim Private Hospital general manager Wallis Westbrook (top left) and neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Byrne. Concerns have been raised about the new management at the UnitingCare owned hospital.

Bullying, harassment allegations made against hospital

The owners of Buderim Private Hospital have been urged to take bullying and harassment allegations seriously in a desperate letter sent from current and former staff.

An anonymous letter sent to UnitingCare's Queensland board of directors revealed ongoing concerns about management, treatment of staff and recent job losses.

"It is concerning that neither the board nor CEO seem to be aware of the ongoing issues at Buderim since the new management team commenced," it said.

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"It seems the hospital is in damage control and the bad reputation is apparent in the community and at other hospitals."

It claims a longstanding staff member was called into the hospital on a public holiday, while they were on long-service leave, to receive their redundancy letter.

It also said cardiac centre numbers were "dismal", resulting in "catastrophic" costs to the hospital.

The letter questioned if management had made budget, how many complaints about the hospital had been sent to the chief executive officer, why key doctors were leaving the facility and how much unfair dismissal claims had cost the organisation.

A Buderim Private Hospital spokesman denied the claims made in the letter.

"Our hospital team have been implementing a performance improvement and change program over the past year, with very positive results in terms of improved clinical care quality and patient outcomes," he said.

The concerns came after the sudden resignation of former hospital general manager of five years, Wallis Westbrook, in May last year.

An article on the Buderim Private Hospital opening in the Sunshine Coast Daily's first edition, July 7.
An article on the Buderim Private Hospital opening in the Sunshine Coast Daily's first edition, July 7.

Neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Byrne, who stopped working at the hospital in December last year, said he was aware of concerns about management.

Dr Byrne said several nurses who had worked at the hospital for decades quit following the management change.

"Staff morale was quite low," Dr Byrne said.

"There was very little information given to the doctors or staff about the (management) changes.

"It happened rapidly and that was quite unsettling for everyone.

"Around that time there were several clinical nursing staff who worked in the operating and ward theatres who quit, and they had been there for decades."

Dr Byrne was the first to perform brain surgery at the Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital, after he moved to Queensland from Newcastle in 2017.

Between 2017 and late 2019, Dr Byrne completed spinal surgeries at Buderim Private Hospital, but said he refused to return after a disagreement about a patient's care and because he could not perform brain surgery at the hospital.

Former staff who spoke to the Daily also raised concerns about redundancies which were issued in May.

The job losses came just over one week after an email was sent to all staff which said they would have job security during the global health pandemic.

It's understood three unfair dismissal claims have been lodged against the private hospital and aged care provider as a result.

The email stated the company signed an agreement with the State Government that ensured hospitals would remain sustainable and that "all our hospital staff have certainty of employment through the COVID-19 crisis".

The hospital spokesman said the Buderim facility had 800 employees, which had increased during the past 12 months.

He said the number of care hours provided to each patient also increased.

"As is the normal course in running any hospital, the roles we require change periodically in response to advancements in modern medicine and the evolving needs of the Sunshine Coast community," the spokesman said.

"The small number of roles changed at the hospital over the last year were replaced by other newly created roles."

However, a redundancy letter sent to a staff member in May stated it was due to challenging conditions and because revenue and government funding were either remaining stagnant or frozen.

The current and former staff members claimed they could not sign the letter sent to UnitingCare's 12 board of directors due to "already being bullied and misrepresented" and out of fear of losing their jobs.

"We just ask that you please take these allegations seriously," it said.

Buderim Private Hospital has been in operation since 1980 and is part of UnitingCare Health, one of the largest not-for-profit private hospital groups in Queensland which operates more than 1000 licensed beds across four hospitals.


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