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Ambos slowed by bed queues

Date

Christopher Knaus

Paramedics say they are being routinely frustrated by the lack of free beds at the Canberra Hospital, a problem which is slowing response times and tying up ambulance resources.

Ambulance staff say it is common to see up to five ambulances queued at the Canberra Hospital during peak periods, as they wait to offload patients to hospital beds.

There is a minimum of eight ambulances operating in the territory at any one time.

An agreement between the ACT Ambulance Services and ACT Health states that patients are expected to be offloaded into a hospital bed 20 minutes after triage.

Official data from ACTAS electronic patient care records shows 90 per cent of the 16,000 patients transported to the hospital since July 2011 were removed from ambulances within that timeframe.

It took between 20 and 40 minutes to offload 1440 patients, and over 40 minutes to offload 160 patients.

But one paramedic, speaking to The Canberra Times anonymously, said that data hid the scale of the problem. He said although patients were removed from the ambulance, they were spending significant periods lying in hospital corridors or waiting areas, supervised by ambulance or nursing staff.

''It's not uncommon to arrive at Canberra Hospital and expect a delay,'' he said. ''Sometimes you are kept for more than double the time we are expected to clear. That can be up to 40 minutes or longer.

''When we're kept waiting longer than 20 minutes with a patient on an ambulance stretcher, that's going to delay our ability to respond should calls come in, particularly when we have multiple ambulances at Canberra Hospital waiting to be offloaded.''

Transport Workers Union official Ben Sweaney said the ACT dealt with bed block better than most other jurisdictions. But delays had a greater impact on the ACT Ambulance Service, because of its relatively low number of ambulances.

''Even though we're doing it well, we don't have enough resources,'' Mr Sweaney said.

''You notice it especially on those big nights, the Fridays or Saturdays … the days when people drink, and you always run the chance of going below minimum crewing. You get a case or two cases where people have got to wait at the hospital for a little bit longer, you will be tasked with a fire crew for 20 minutes before you can send an ambulance.''

An ACT Health spokesman said the delays at the hospital were minimised by ACTAS' offload policy.

That policy sees paramedics hand patients over to hospital staff, and kept in waiting rooms, treatment spaces or hospital corridors, when necessary. ''At times of high activity with many ambulances presenting at the same time, patients may be offloaded to a trolley in the corridor in line with the ACT Ambulance Service offload policy, until a treatment space is made available,'' the spokesman said.

Often, when multiple ambulances are caught in bed block, one crew will be left behind to supervise multiple patients, allowing the other crews to get back onto the road. An ACTAS spokesman said the problem of bed block at the hospital was not hindering the operations of the service. The computer aided dispatch system ensured that the closest and most appropriate ambulance was sent to each emergency call.

ACT Health and ACTAS were working together to ''maximise the availability of ambulance resources''.

3 comments so far

  • I agree their is a big problem with beds at Canberra Hospital. It would appear that casualty and EMG do not transfer patients into the general hospital until after what appears to be the 10.00pm bed auction. In my opinion they keep patients and their families waiting until 10.00pm in what appears to be the hope that they will give up and go home. Could CT perhaps grill Katy Gallagher whether this is what is happening?. In fact 1 nurse, a physio and the DVA laison told me to take my 89 year old mother home after her being in EMG for 10 hours. I refused, they ganged up, i still refused, they got a doctor and he said she should stay, "she has broken bones in her back he said." They waited another 10 hours before being admitted.

    Commenter
    stoney
    Date and time
    April 24, 2012, 8:47AM
    • If anyone has ever been to Canberra Hospital for something that is non-urgent, this is not in the least bit surprising. They are great at dealing with emergency issues but anything less and you can forget it. I personally think the answer is to implement a 'screening' area of lower skilled staff, similar to the drop in centre in Phillip. That way you can discharge anyone that shouldn't really be there and admit patients that are in need of additional care.

      Commenter
      Luke
      Date and time
      April 24, 2012, 9:23AM
      • Late last year the nurse on call phone line called me an ambulance as I was experiencing significant symptoms of a stroke. The ambulance arrived within minutes and the ambo's were exceptionally professional and friendly.
        I was taken to Canberra hospital and was told I'd have to wait a few minutes to find a bed before I could be seen. I was placed on a bed in the hallway. With quite a few other patients.
        For over two hours no one came and saw me nor was I moved. My wife had to track a nurse down just to get some aspirin.
        After three hours I left. Stupid of me to do I know but I figured if no one at the hospital thought a stroke was important enough then I might be better off at my GP.
        Two weeks later, suffering with similar symptoms I went back and this time got in within 30 minutes.
        Fortunately I wasn't suffering from a stroke but what's alarming is I've since learned that strokes, if caught early can be stopped or minimised. I wonder how many people end up suffering more than they need too because of these delays.
        It's time for the Government to re prioritise funding in this town. Some Agencies seem to invent ways to spend their money while others struggle.

        Commenter
        Help
        Date and time
        April 24, 2012, 1:05PM

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