30 August 2016

Emergency department demand

A sharp increase in influenza-like illness, as well as a lack of Commonwealth funded aged care beds, is putting increased pressure on WA's public metropolitan emergency departments (ED).

August is typically the busiest time of the year for hospital EDs – the daily attendances at metropolitan sites this month have been 97 per day higher than the daily rate in July.

Just before 9am this morning, there were already 275 patients in EDs across the metropolitan area.

WA Health Chief Medical Officer, Professor Gary Geelhoed said hospitals were now starting to feel the effect of a relatively late-starting flu season, with a significant increase in flu-like illness over the past two weeks.

“Levels of influenza activity are currently the highest they have been since 2012,” Professor Geelhoed said. 

“In the past week alone, there has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of patients presenting with a flu-like illness compared to the same week last year.” 

Professor Geelhoed said the dominant circulating influenza virus strain this winter was A/H3N2 – which is known to disproportionately affect elderly people, who are more likely to require hospital admission. 

“Unfortunately, WA has the lowest number of aged care beds, per head of population, in Australia, which means there are many elderly people in our hospitals waiting for beds to become available in residential care,” he said.

The unprecedented demand at WA’s metropolitan EDs is having a significant effect on ambulance ramping and patient flow throughout the hospitals – with 160 hours of ambulance ramping recorded across Perth’s tertiary hospitals yesterday.

“WA Health continues to work with St John Ambulance to monitor the situation and ensure appropriate measures are in place to help ambulances get back on the road as quickly as possible,” Professor Geelhoed said.

“Patient safety remains our top priority and hospitals are making every effort to share the load while this surge in demand is occurring.”

Professor Geelhoed said anyone who did not require emergency care should consider other health care options such as a GP or healthdirect Australia.

Anyone requiring emergency care should, of course, attend an emergency department, or dial 000.

For more information on health care options visit www.healthywa.wa.gov.au (external site).


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