More hospital beds are the only answer to Canberra Hospital frequently reaching unsafe levels of occupancy, says the Australian Medical Association's ACT president, who warns the situation is set to worsen.
Dr Liz Gallagher said she was concerned the hospital's capacity was routinely going beyond the safe level of 85 per cent occupancy recommended by the AMA.
She has seen firsthand the "battles for beds" in the hospital's accident and emergency department and Women and Children's Hospital.
"We probably don't have enough beds," she said.
"Over the years, the bed numbers have actually decreased as the models of care for people have changed."
Although the changing management of both patients in the hospital and as outpatients has continued, she said the demand for beds had increased.
"As the population ages, it means we now have to bring more beds back again," she said.
Dr Gallagher said the government was working towards increasing the number of beds, but was behind.
"We're trying to play catch-up rather than having built the capacity for the hospital to have grown back at the beginning," she said.
Dr Gallagher said when the hospital reached a high level of occupancy, it made it harder for staff to give adequate nursing attention andtime to each patient.
"If they're rushed off their feet all the time, then that's when mistakes get made, when patients don't get the care they need or deserve," she said.
"It has a huge impact on staff stress.
"Healthcare workers, nurses, doctors, everybody is striving to provide the best care for patients they can and if they're rushed and they're busy, and they can't move patients who need to be moved to the appropriate place for care, then it's really stressful because you don't feel like you're doing the best job for these people you can."
Dr Gallagher said when a hospital reaches 100 per cent capacity, patients are forced to remain in the accident and emergency department, taking up beds needed for people requiring emergency care.
"Those that have been seen and admitted should be managed up in a ward, not an acute environment," she said.
She does not believe patients seeking free care are the reason for a recent spike in emergency presentations.
"I don't think there is a lack of [free] services," she said.
"If the hospital occupancy is going up, the patients who are presenting to A&E obviously need admission.
"It's not just people who are going in there for GP-type presentations; the issue is people are going there because they need to go there and that corresponds with the number of people who need to be admitted to hospital."