ACT News

ACT Health denies hospitals are operating at unsafe levels

ACT Health has denied Canberra's public hospitals are operating beyond a safe level of occupancy and attempted to backtrack on comments from its emergency department specialist who said the Canberra Hospital's occupancy was "well-above" 90 per cent.

In an interview on Monday, the hospital's emergency department staff specialist, associate professor Dr Drew Richardson, told the Canberra Times occupancy was as high as 120 per cent "depending on how you count it", contradicting a statement from ACT Health on Friday.

Safe levels: ACT Health denies Canberra Hospital is operating beyond a safe level of occupancy.
Safe levels: ACT Health denies Canberra Hospital is operating beyond a safe level of occupancy. Photo: Gabriele Charotte

The "inconsistencies" in the occupancy rates prompted concern from Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson.

But a spokeswoman for the department stood by Friday's "official answer", saying "neither Canberra Hospital, nor Calvary Hospital has ever run at 110 to 120 per cent occupancy".

"As per the response provided on Friday, the current hospital occupancy levels across the territory remain at 83 per cent," she said.

"There is no discrepancy in the figures.

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"In this interview, A/Professor Richardson was speaking to the busyness of the hospital over the weekend."

The Australian Medical Association recommends a safe occupancy level of 85 per cent.

The spokeswoman said data about the occupancy levels in October used real time information and Dr Richardson "does not have access to the types of figures he was being asked for".

She would not answer questions about Canberra Hospital's current occupancy.

"The ACT has two public hospitals and these hospitals work collaboratively to provide a networked service," she said. 

"Reporting on the occupancy of one hospital, without the other, does not truly reflect the territory's current capacity to meet public hospital demand."

She said the department saw "little validity" in providing weekly updates on the occupancy of either hospital as it did not "accurately reflect the overall picture of the hospital's input and output over a longer period of time".

The spokeswoman said the hospital had a number of processes to cope during times of high occupancy, including "early discharge of patients, sometimes with additional community support as well as increased utilisation of services such as Hospital in the Home".

To prepare for a spike in emergency department activity expected for November, the spokeswoman said the hospital would rely on the same methods routinely used during busy periods "including the utilisation of being part of a two hospital networked territory service".

Last week, Chief Minister and Minister for Health Katy Gallagher asked the department for a report into what factors were leading to "substantial year-on-year increases" in emergency presentations at the two hospitals.

The spokeswoman said work on the request was ongoing.

"This information will be provided back to the Chief Minister once finalised," she said.