The incoming head of SA Health Dr Chris McGowan will need to hit the ground running to solve problems in South Australia’s health system and introduce a new era of stability, the state’s Australian Medical Association has said, following news of the appointment of the Silver Chain CEO.

SA Premier Steven Marshall announced today that McGowan will be taking on the role at the helm of the largest department in the state government, and AMA State President Associate Professor William Tam described it as a challenging and extremely important role.

“As everyone knows, there have been big changes in SA and big projects – the RAH move, Transforming Health, EPAS and, in the future, the WCH move. We’ve seen major upheavals and a lot of turnover in senior roles in SA Health. We’ll definitely be looking for more stability across the system,” Tam said.

A frequent critic of SA Health as it has lurched from controversy to budget blow-out, Tam said McGowan’s past experience in the state’s public health system and the private sector will provide him with an understanding of the state’s interlinked health landscape. But he advised the new health boss to collaborate with clinicians.

“With a new government elected and a host of changes on the horizon, the AMA(SA) will be looking to the new chief executive to come with an open mind and a readiness to engage and consult with people on the ground about the issues, and where things are up to. Not predetermined ideas about what the answers are, and what is needed,” Tam said.

“The health system is a system based on skilled, dedicated people. Not the hospital buildings, not the IT. The people. You need to get those other things right, but at the heart you really need a people-first system. They will help you get the rest.”

[Read more: SA Health Minister concedes EPAS complications and pledges review | SA doctors claim the state’s EHR has caused errors and delayed urgent care]

The Premier said he was delighted to welcome McGowan to the SA Health top job and thanked outgoing chief executive Vickie Kaminski, whose exit forms part of a purging of senior public servants by the new government, including the head of the Premier's Department Don Russell.

"Ms Kaminski has been a model of professionalism while tackling the demanding task of administering South Australia's health system," Marshall said.

"Ms Kaminski's decision to provide a transition period with Dr McGowan is a measure of her commitment to serving the people of South Australia."

McGowan will take up the position on 7 May.

He will transition from heading up Silver Chain, which provides in-home specialist nursing, palliative care, home hospital and allied health services, and take over a $5.9 billion annual budget and a portfolio of health networks and services that has been plagued by tech problems.

[Read more: New Royal Adelaide Hospital opens: CIO talks clinical collaboration and ‘cool’ tech | New funding blowout to SA Health’s EPAS takes the cost to almost half a billion dollars]

The new state government, which was a vocal critic of SA Health in opposition, has moved quickly to try to solve some of the health service headaches.

It has paused the roll-out of the troubled EPAS electronic health record planned for the Royal Adelaide Hospital in April. Delays in implementation of the AllScripts technology mean that a partial system is in place at the hospital, which opened in September, with staff continuing to use some paper records.

Originally budgeted at $408 million in 2011, the cost of EPAS has blown out to $471 million over the 10 years to 2021.

Concerns from clinicians have also been ongoing, and in August the state’s AMA claimed that if EPAS were a car it would be recalled. The doctor’s lobby group said a survey of medical staff suggested the system was “not fit for purpose,” and had led to pathology mix-ups, prescribing mishaps and difficulty in finding records when they are urgently needed.

SA Health figures claim EPAS has achieved some important improvements in healthcare - over 1.29 million inpatient, outpatient and emergency department visits have been registered in EPAS, with more than 2.2 million medication orders and 1.8 million pathology and medical imaging orders placed via the system. It has also led to drastically fewer medication administration errors – from one in 20 to one in 3000 – in the state’s hospitals.

But the new Health Minister Stephen Wade said last week the much-maligned electronic patient record system poses an “unacceptable risk to patients” and the State Government is finalising details and arrangements for an independent review of EPAS. The tender for the selection of the reviewer is expected soon.





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