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Aged-care shortage adding to access woes

Date

Peter Jean, Noel Towell

Margaret Rees was subjected to a two-day wait in Canberra Hospital's emergency department. Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has issued a public apology for the incident.

Margaret Rees was subjected to a two-day wait in Canberra Hospital's emergency department. Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has issued a public apology for the incident. Photo: Jay Cronan

The overhaul of a Canberra nursing home appears to be contributing to ''access block'' in the city's public hospitals as staff search for suitable places for elderly patients who are ready to be discharged but need residential aged care.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher issued a public apology yesterday to a 72-year-old cancer patient who waited for two days in The Canberra Hospital's emergency department before being admitted to a ward.

The Sunday Canberra Times reported that Margaret Rees was subjected to the long wait in July after being taken to the hospital with breathing difficulties.

ACT Health Director-General Dr Peggy Brown.

ACT Health Director-General Dr Peggy Brown. Photo: Penny Bradfield

In an interview last week, Health Director-General Peggy Brown said she was concerned that hospital beds were being taken up by people waiting for residential aged-care places.

Dr Brown said the problem had been exacerbated by the planned major redevelopment of the Ginninderra Gardens aged-care home which had led to a temporary reduction in places at the Anglicare-owned facility.

''That's impacting a bit on the hospital demand because we then can't get the older people out,'' she said. ''We then have to think, 'Well, how do we get around that'.

''We're in negotiations around where are we going to find an extra eight beds to decant some of the older people in hospital awaiting nursing home placements. That's not something that there's any way of expecting or anticipating, so all of a sudden you've got to adapt.''

Ms Gallagher said yesterday she was extremely sorry about Mrs Rees' delayed admission to hospital.

The incident had occurred when all local public and private hospitals had been very busy.

''I'd be more than happy to apologise to her, I don't think that she complained to me or I would have done that,'' Ms Gallagher said.

''This is not ideal, it's not the way we like people to be treated, but the alternative is kick other people out of their beds to make space and I'm sure there are plenty of people who wouldn't like to see that happen.''

Ms Gallagher said the government had been building up hospital bed numbers since it came to power.

''The issue for this woman was the rest of the hospital was full and there was no bed available. We're finding that you can only open a maximum of 40 beds a year and we've been doing that,'' she said.

''We've added 260 beds to the health system and another 270 in the plans but you have to stage those beds, you can't just open them.''

According to the ACT Health Directorate's annual report, the ACT's public hospitals are expected to have 979 beds open this financial year, up from 670 10 years ago.

The public hospital system aims to have 85 per cent bed occupancy, leaving available surge capacity for peak times and emergencies. Last financial year, bed capacity was running slightly in excess of this, at 88 per cent occupancy.

The ACT has the lowest proportion of residential aged-care places to older people in Australia.

Last year in the ACT there were 77.8 aged-care places for every 1000 people aged over 70 years.

This compared with 83.7 places for every 1000 people aged over 70 years Australia-wide.

Residential aged care is regulated by the federal government.

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