Emergency needs a fix
HEALTH Minister Sarah Courtney has had a pretty smooth ride since she took on the portfolio in the mid-year reshuffle. But today all that changes after the dramatic — and frightening — evidence given to the Coroners Court yesterday by the Royal Hobart Hospital’s emergency medicine director.
Giving evidence in an inquest, Dr Emma Huckerby revealed that the issue of “access block” — essentially the delays in moving admitted patients from the emergency department to a bed in a ward — were now so severe that it would take “a lot of time, money and skills to fix”. And most startlingly, she revealed that in the last financial year more than 1800 patients who were admitted to the hospital had spent more than 24 hours in the emergency department. That compares to a grand total of two — yes, two — combined across Melbourne’s four large hospitals, the Alfred, Austin, St Vincent’s and Royal Melbourne. Woah. This problem was worse than any of us ever suspected — and we all suspected it was probably pretty bad.
Dr Huckerby said managers at the hospital did not have “any resources with which to address access block effectively”. And she indicated it was going to take much more than the opening of the hospital’s new K Block for these issues to go away. Dr Huckerby said more capacity was one thing — but cultural change was going to be just as critical if the problems were ever going to be addressed, and “you can’t just tell everyone to just change their culture — it actually takes a lot of work to change a culture”.
MORE THAN 1800 PATIENTS WHO WERE ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL HAD SPENT MORE THAN 24 HOURS IN THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT. THAT COMPARES TO A GRAND TOTAL OF TWO ACROSS MELBOURNE’S FOUR LARGE HOSPITALS.
Enter Minister Courtney, who now will surely walk into the lion’s den during Question Time in State Parliament today. Following evidence to the same inquest on Monday that paramedics were waiting with patients in the emergency department for up to 10 hours, Ms Courtney was able to bat away questions by saying the government was doing all it could.
But come on. Does anybody really think it is appropriate that in Hobart five legitimate patients are waiting more than 24 hours for admission on average every single day when right across Melbourne that only happens once every six months? This is a fullblown crisis and one that requires more than just a Minister saying she is doing all she can. And where’s the Premier? He should step up too and take some share of responsibility. He should also declare an emergency and find whatever resources are required to fix it. Now.
Who are we kidding, though? This mess is of such a magnitude that the politicians know they have zero chance of ever getting on top of it. The new K Block that we all continue to wait for the opening of will be a welcome addition to the hospital (and at what it has cost it should be!), but its commissioning will be a nightmare (it always is) and once it is up and running it simply won’t get close to fixing the problems.
Meanwhile our population keeps getting older, we are beset by more mental health problems every year — and at the coalface our hard-working doctors and nurses are left to do whatever the hell they can while the politicians send in the bean counters. It’s tragic.
Responsibility for all editorial comment is taken by the Editor, Chris Jones, Level 1, 2 Salamanca Square, Hobart, TAS, 7000