ACT News

Do VIPs receive red carpet treatment at Canberra's emergency department?

Ever wondered how presidents, royalty or VIPs might be treated if they needed to visit the emergency department during a Canberra visit? ACT Health has spilled the beans.

ACT Health has lifted the lid on the treatment dignitaries and visiting heads of state would receive if they had a medical emergency in Canberra, revealing how contingency plans are often put in place weeks and months in advance. 

Although VIPs do receive some special arrangements, including to protect their privacy and security, there is no red carpet on arrival and most would be treated just like any other patient, according to Canberra Hospital's emergency department clinical director Dr Michael Hall.

Clinical director of the emergency Ddpartment Michael Hall, inside the VIP ED ward at the Canberra Hospital.
Clinical director of the emergency Ddpartment Michael Hall, inside the VIP ED ward at the Canberra Hospital.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

"Usually the preparation starts somewhere between six months and six weeks before they come and for some of them, they'll send an advanced medical team so we'll have medical and security representatives come and have a look around the ED and review hospital procedures," Dr Hall said. 

"We always get notification from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and from the embassies directly of people's dates of arrival, of members of the party that will be there and background on medical conditions and medical history so we can be aware and be prepared.

"As far as what we do on a day-to-day basis, it really doesn't change our practice significantly. We see about 200 patients a day and planning for potentially 201 or 202 isn't dramatically different.

"The conditions are the same and we need to be aware we have the ability to treat them with respect and treat them in an appropriately secure environment. A large part of our priority is to ensure that we can still manage our normal business with the rest of patients in the emergency department." 

Dr Hall said given Canberra's role as a political hub and the nation's capital meant the ACT health system had to cater for all kinds of people, including some of the world's most exclusive visitors and their families.

The ACT has hosted a number of high-profile visitors this year, most notably the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George, and more recently, a number of dignitaries who visited Canberra after the G20 summit. 

"There are some special procedures for VIPs and it's mostly about protecting their privacy and the privacy of the waiting room," Dr Hall said.

"In general, a VIP would come straight into the emergency department. [Generally] their treatment is exactly the same as everybody else's – they get triaged by a triage nurse, we will decide on how urgent their condition, they will get seen by the same medical staff and the same nursing staff and have the same treatment as anybody else... excepting that we often have to work around their security requirements.

"I think the most important thing is we just don't let their care affect the care of everybody else. The procedures are really about protecting everybody else as much as they are about facilitating the requirements of those VIPs." 

Dr Hall said many dignitaries and high-profile visitors to the emergency department did not want "special" treatment. 

"In fact, it's been remarkable that when we've had VIPs and very important VIPs, they very much express the wish to be treated as people and so it's really important that we work with doctors to treat them as that," he said. 

"Part of it is about making sure they feel comfortable and safe. When people get sick, they're just humans."