21 December 2022

Plan ahead for healthcare if travelling and be nice, not naughty, emergency doctors warn

| Lottie Twyford
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Locally, it’s unclear what this silly season holds for the ACT’s healthcare system but people are being urged to plan ahead. Photo: Region.

Emergency doctors across the country are urging people to plan ahead for healthcare this silly season and warning patients could experience longer waits than usual when attending emergency departments.

In a joint statement, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia (CENA) and the College of Emergency Nursing New Zealand (CENNZ) attributed this pressure to higher than usual staff absences due to healthcare workers taking time off or becoming ill themselves and requiring time off.

Long-term shortages in professions such as nursing, in particular, remain an issue across the border.

ACEM President Dr Clare Skinner said emergency departments were understaffed and healthcare workers were doing their best to prioritise those who needed care.

“Right now in emergency departments, we are doing our very best to treat people with serious injury or illness as quickly and safely as possible,” she said.

“With limited staff and resources, we are prioritising saving lives.”

A surfer Moruya Breakwall negotiates a large swell that hit the coastline last weekend.

People travelling to the coast and country this year are reminded to plan ahead for healthcare. Photo: Alex Rea.

People travelling are being urged to plan ahead and pack adequate medicine given the likelihood staffing levels in emergency departments in rural, regional and remote areas will be most acutely impacted.

Dr Skinner urged people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing.

“Enjoy this time, but drink alcohol in moderation, avoid drugs, be sun smart and water safe, and keep a very close eye on kids. Be careful with ladders – so many ED presentations are from falling from a height,” she said.

In the Territory, it’s unclear what the situation will look like at the emergency departments.

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ACT Health is urging people to consider alternatives for healthcare over the festive period including walk-in centres.

Acting Health Minister Chris Steel said the Government would keep an eye on the demand on the ACT’s emergency departments.

“We’re continuing to monitor [the situation] closely and work with Canberra Health Services on the demand they are seeing in the system,” he told reporters on Tuesday (20 December).

“While winter is the busiest period for EDs, we know people do come forward and seek healthcare at this time so we will provide information out to patients as needed.”

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Australian Medical Association ACT branch president Walter Abhayaratna agreed a complicating factor this year was high numbers of healthcare workers taking leave.

“I can speak from personal experience that the leave balance has just gone up big time because we haven’t been able to take leave,” he said.

“That’s not just administrative. It means staff haven’t been able to take their leave and they are stressed out and they do need to take breaks.

“And unlike the rest of the community, when people in the healthcare system get sick, they do have to stay away and that puts more pressure on other staff who have to carry that extra load.”

But predicting what demand would be like at the Territory’s EDs was “difficult”, Professor Abhayaratna said, as it was never clear if the anticipated demand warned of by the ACEM would eventuate.

Professor Walter Abhayaratna said it was always difficult to predict demand over the silly season. Photo: File.

Nonetheless, he urged patients not to “take their frustration out on staff” and to be kind over this period.

“I am cognisant of the fact that COVID-19 has made life more difficult for consumers – particularly if they are carers or family – to visit their loved ones in hospital,” he said.

“It is frustrating for both sides. But please remember not just healthcare workers but support staff are there to help.

“If there are delays, be cognisant that these people are working in a really stressed out system and common civility is important.”

If people did have a poor experience when seeking care, he encouraged them to provide “constructive” feedback through the usual avenues instead.

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