NEW HOSPITAL, OLD PROBLEM: Doctors are calling for a manual override of the backup generator at the Lismore Base Hospital after a power failure.
NEW HOSPITAL, OLD PROBLEM: Doctors are calling for a manual override of the backup generator at the Lismore Base Hospital after a power failure. Marc Stapelberg

Investigation under way after blackout at hospital

UPDATE, 3.45pm: THE heath district says there will be an investigation into why a back-up generator failed to kick in at Lismore Base Hospital during a blackout on Saturday night.

Acting chief executive Northern NSW Local Health District, Lynne Weir, said patient care continued at the hospital during the 30-minute outage, with back-up generators maintaining electricity supply across the majority of the facility.

"The back-up generator did not kick in at one of the buildings due to a synchronisation issue," she said.

"However, emergency power was provided to the building via the Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) battery back-up during the outage, which maintained lighting, telephones and patient monitoring."

She said the health district was investigating why the generator did not activate in this building and is taking immediate action to ensure it would not happen again.

"NNSWLHD apologises to patients and staff for any interruption to services which resulted from this outage," Ms Weir said.

"Staff did an excellent job maintaining a calm environment and continuing to provide excellent care for patients during the outage period.

"One staff member was in a lift during the outage and was assisted by a Health and Security Assistant (HSA).

"HSA conducted checks throughout the building, including the lifts, as part of the standard emergency response."


Original story: THE complete failure of a back-up generator at Lismore Base Hospital put lives at risk during a blackout just before 8pm on Saturday.

The power outage - which affected thousands of homes and business in the Lismore CBD, East Lismore, Lismore Heights and parts of Goonellabah - should not have impacted the hospital, which has its own back-up generator to operate in such an instance.

Paediatrician Dr Chris Ingall, who was on duty in the hospital's special care nursery during the blackout, said the fact the new generator in the hospital's $180 million 3B stage failed to work was "completely unacceptable."

He said the doctors at the hospital would now demand assurance from executives that a manual override will be installed.

"We had a good half dozen babies in humidicribs and we made sure we kept everyone safe, as clinicians we ensured all the medical equipment was on battery backup," Dr Ingall said.

"At the back of your mind you know these humidcribs have only so long in their battery life."

Dr Ingall said the utter failure of the hospital's back-up generator puts lives at risk.

"I was working the last the time we had a prolonged outage when a similar thing happened," he said.

"We doctors will be asking the executive for a manual override so the next time this occurs we can get essential power back on."

He said the medical staff made contingency plans in case power was not restored.

"I was told this morning that the power came back on because the whole precinct recovered, not because of the hospital generator working," Dr Ingall said.

"There's no room for mistakes of this kind in this business."

A witness at the hospital, who has requested anonymity, said unlike the hospital's C-Block generator, the new E-Block backup complete failed.

The witness said the emergency department had many patients being attended to "in semi-darkness with only emergency lighting," and one person was trapped in an elevator.

It is understood the ICU was not affected.

According to Essential Energy's corporate media manager, Simone Plews, wildlife was the cause of the blackout.

"A snake entered the SCU zone substation and came into contact with some equipment," she said.

The Northern NSW Health District which operates Lismore Base Hospital has been approached for comment.