23 June 2022

Canberra's emergency departments under extreme pressure, patients urged to consider alternatives

| Lottie Twyford
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Emergency department

People are urged to consider alternatives as Canberra Hospital faces extreme pressure due to COVID-19. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The Territory’s Emergency Departments and hospitals are currently “extremely busy”, and Canberra Health Services has urged patients to consider alternatives for non-urgent care.

CHS Chief Operating Officer Cathie O’Neill attributed the pressure to high numbers of COVID-19 and non-COVID patients, as well as workforce challenges with many team members sick and unable to work.

“We’re not unique in this – every hospital in Australia is experiencing these challenges,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said this pressure is expected to last a few months as winter tends to be busier due to the broader impact of respiratory viruses and the colder weather impacts people with chronic conditions.

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CHS has previously described the situation at the hospital as “bed block”, which occurs when a large number of patients require more extended hospital stays, meaning ED patients have to wait longer for a bed to be free.

Nevertheless, Ms O’Neill confirmed anyone who needs emergency care will receive it if they attend the ED, but those with less urgent conditions will be required to wait longer.

CHS recommends patients consider care alternatives such as a GP, a Walk-in Centre, CALMS (Canberra After Hours Locum Medical Services), the National Home Doctor Service and Healthdirect.

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At the same time, to free up the workforce, CHS will reduce the hours of the Tuggeranong Walk-in Centre from 7:30 am to 10 pm to 2 pm to 10 pm. These new operating hours will kick in tomorrow (Friday, 24 June) and remain in place until early August.

“At times, we temporarily reduce hours or close some services to redirect staff to more acute services or to ensure other less acute services can continue operating,” Ms O’Neill explained.

“Every one of these decisions is difficult, and we acknowledge the impact they have on our community.”

She urged patience and kindness toward CHS staff.

Last month, CHS announced it would need to postpone some elective surgeries at Canberra Hospital and Calvary Public Hospital.

It’s understood around 11 surgeries a day are being postponed to manage demand more efficiently.

ED wait times were offline last night due to server maintenance, they are now back online.

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Sadly, there are people who attend the A & E for simple things like a sore foot, headaches and light cuts. Things that could wait until the next day to go to a walk in clinic or even their GP. Unfortunately, it’s getting very hard to find a bulk billing GP and people who are on a very reduced income can’t afford to pay $80 for an appointment with a private GP.

Capital Retro7:45 pm 24 Jun 22

I use a private GP but it usually takes a week to get an appointment so the advice from his staff is to go to ED.

I would be confident that if ED demanded a co-payment for people who did not need emergency services the people presenting would halve immediately. I would be happy to pay the equivalent of a full GP fee.

We have tried multiple times to use the National Home Doctors Services – only to get the messaged repeated that they don’t service our area…. we are in central Woden.

That is ridiculous. How can they not service central Woden?

Capital Retro8:51 am 24 Jun 22

A death at a hospital is called “a negative patient outcome”.

This makes sense to a hospital administrator. Hospitals could be run far more efficiently if there were no patients. One episode of Yes Minister was about a plan to have buses run on time by no longer picking up passengers.

Capital Retro7:33 am 24 Jun 22

“……..patients urged to consider alternatives.”

Like death?

Maybe they could go ride the tram instead. That’s where the money went.

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