Canberra Hospital’s switchboard has been flooded with thousands of calls from anti-vaccine mandate and “freedom” protesters after one of their high-profile members was admitted for psychiatric treatment.
A Facebook page associated with the movement ordered its followers to call the switchboard yesterday, 7 March, regarding a man understood to be receiving treatment in a high-dependency unit after suffering a manic episode.
Group members initially believed he was being held against his will and called him an “involuntary patient”.
Many social media posts expressed concern about being unable to reach the man when they called the hospital to do a welfare check on him.
The high volume of calls posed problems for health staff and delays for people calling to get news of their own loved ones.
Canberra Health Services CEO Dave Peffer described the onslaught of calls as “disruptive”.
“The switchboard plays a critical role in the provision of care where we have teams that are rostered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and so being able to contact the right specialist, the right clinician across the health service is absolutely important,” Mr Peffer said.
“To have thousands of calls flooding in does cause a level of disruption that does impact the care that we provide. It is disappointing.”
Mr Peffer acknowledged some people had been unable to contact their loved ones in hospital because of the disruption.
He said calls had eased off today.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said it was incredibly disappointing to see “this kind of action”.
“It’s simply disrupting other people’s access to healthcare services,” she said.
However, by Monday night the group was asking its followers to stop calling.
“Everyone needs to stop calling the hospital now they are very aware that many are watching and are aware,” a post on the Facebook page read.
According to the post, “human rights advocates” were now allegedly involved in the case and people were asked to keep the patient in their prayers.
Another group member suggested the man had been taken into custody after breaking into his own car. He claimed police had taken him to hospital because of his “confused state of mind”.
This person, who claimed to be across the situation, said the man was free to leave at any time.
According to a Twitter post, one group member claimed to have tried to attend the hospital to try and “rescue” him but, after an alleged confrontation with hospital staff, they claimed police were called.
ACT Policing, however, said they were not called to the hospital yesterday regarding any such incident.
The patient involved promotes a range of conspiracy theories.