Emer­gency needs a fix

Mercury (Hobart) - - LETTERS -

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

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