By Jess Baker
Experts say Queensland’s public hospitals are a ‘ticking time bomb’, as patient numbers at Stanthorpe medical practices surge.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland member and Australian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) spokesperson Dr Kim Hansen said the current situation is the worst emergency doctors had seen.
“There’s been a surge in patients this year – most hospitals are seeing record numbers and they just don’t have the staff or beds to cope,” said Dr Hansen.
“The system was already at full capacity and now it’s swamped.”
Dr Hansen said emergency departments are “the canary in the coalmine”, bearing the burden when other parts of the health system are over capacity.
“Emergency doctors and nurses are happy to work hard to see all the patients but they can’t do it well if they have to practice ‘waiting room medicine’,” she said.
“It’s awful, like putting a Band Aid on a stab wound.”
A spokesperson for Darling Downs Health said patient numbers in Warwick and Stanthorpe Hospital emergency departments fluctuate over the year and are rarely predictable, but staff work hard to provide ‘patient-centred’ care.
“Our emergency departments operate under a triage model which means patients with more serious or complicated illnesses are seen first. People with less serious illness or injuries may have to wait a period of time for treatment,” said the spokesperson.
“Like most rural centres, it can be difficult, at times, to get a timely GP appointment in Warwick and Stanthorpe. This can sometimes have a flow-on effect with patients presenting to the emergency department for non-urgent medical care.”
The spokesperson said that while Darling Downs Health does not discourage people from seeking medical care, all patients are triaged and are attended to according to urgency.
Waiting times for GP appointments have long been an issue in both Stanthorpe and Warwick, but some medical staff have indicated the situation is more extreme today than it has been in years.
A staff member of a local medical centre, who wished to remain anonymous, said she has noticed a significant surge in patient numbers within the last year.
She said she believes this rise is related to the influx of people moving to town, as many patients are new patients.
“It’s a lot of extra work … we probably don’t have enough staff,” she said.
“We can’t hire more (workers) because there’s not enough space and equipment. It just is what it is at the moment.”
The staff member said people who require urgent care can be seen by the GPs at her clinic immediately, but waiting times can be much longer for general appointments.
It is situations like these that Dr Hansen said are contributing to clogged emergency departments across Queensland.
A Darling Downs Health spokesperson said waiting times for care and staff levels remain “in line with appropriate guidelines and requirements” at both Warwick and Stanthorpe hospitals.