An Auditor-General's report says patient care at the Ballarat Health Service is “at risk”.

Victoria’s Auditor-General says the largest regional hospital in western Victoria is not investigating serious incidents promptly, or improving patient safety. 

Ballarat Health Services (BHS) operates the Ballarat Base Hospital. It was among four services inspected by the Auditor-General, the others being Djerriwarrh Health Services, Melbourne Health, and Peninsula Health.

Auditors looked at the systems and processes that each hospital uses to ensure staff and patient safety. 

All four hospitals were found not to be investigating serious incidents properly, nor doing enough to improve patient safety. 

The Auditor-General’s report comes with 18 recommendations, 14 of which were directed at BHS. 

The Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) report found that internal systems at BHS failed to establish a “positive patient safety culture”, and did not encourage staff to speak up about safety risks.

A total of 17 per cent of BHS staff reported experiencing bullying in 2019. Staff at the hospital said they fear reprisal if they speak up about improper conduct.

Additionally, BHS was found to be taking, on average, 16 months to implement internal recommendations following incidents, and it was not properly equipped to respond to significant quality and safety risks. 

BHS chief medical officer, Matthew Hadfield, says the service has already improved.

“We are proud to represent other regional health services in this comparative audit and acknowledge the speed of change possible at the larger metropolitan services reviewed in this report,” Dr Hadfield said. 

“In the 18 months it has taken for VAGO to complete and write this report, BHS has made substantial progress, building upon the existing foundation of clinical governance within the organisation.

“The findings and recommendations within this report will allow BHS to continue to improve its clinical governance systems and practices.”

Ballarat Health Services says it accepts all 14 of the report’s recommendations.