Ipswich Hospital ED has been on bypass every second day this year.
Ipswich Hospital ED has been on bypass every second day this year. Claudia Baxter

Hospital ED in critical condition

IPSWICH Hospital’s emergency department has been on bypass 34 times since the start of this year, raising grave concerns about the adequacy of the facility.

From January 1 to March 8, the hospital had been on bypass – when ambulance crews and patients are diverted to other hospitals – 34 times.

Queensland Health says bypass status is reached when Emergency Departments (ED) reach maximum capacity and the treatment of patients already there “could be significantly compromised with the arrival, by ambulance, of further patients.”

Category-one patients with critical injuries are not turned away, but ambulance union organiser Mark Denham said the problem is badly affecting paramedics and patients.

He said paramedics had to stay with their patients until they were admitted, and when hospitals are on bypass, it often means they have to wait with them for hours, stopping the crews from doing other jobs.

“Ambulances have to go hospital shopping,” Mr Denham said. “Every day there is a hospital on bypass, in Ipswich and all over the state.”

Mr Denham said paramedics can be stuck in their ambulances with patients for up to four hours, in which time the patient’s condition could change a number of times.

At one point on Monday, four Ipswich ambulance crews were waiting with patients for beds to become available at Brisbane’s QEII hospital after being redirected from the Ipswich Hospital.

Ipswich Hospital executive director and medical superintendent Dr Gerry Costello said patient flows to the ED were highly unpredictable.

“The decision to place a hospital on ambulance bypass is not taken lightly, and each decision is based on a unique set of circumstances,” Dr Costello said in a statement.

He said an incident such as a car accident could cause long delays in EDs as clinical resources are concentrated on saving lives, and that the average wait for a category-one patient was less than a minute.

Australian Medical Association of Queensland president Dr Gino Pecoraro said his members have regularly raised concerns about the bypass situation at the Ipswich Hospital.

Dr Pecoraro said the bypass figures obtained by The Queensland Times showed there were not enough hospital beds in the Ipswich region.

“It is proof of what our members are telling us, that there is a dangerous undersupply of beds in the Ipswich region,” Dr Pecoraro said.

“It makes it a difficult work environment when you are working at peak capacity.”

He said if there were more beds, ED patients could be moved on quicker, allowing more to be seen by the ED.

New Health Minister Geoff Wilson said the most-urgent patients are seen in under a minute, and the average wait for all patients is less than an hour.

“This is less than the time you might expect to wait for treatment at your local GP, and Ipswich Hospital’s emergency department is consistent with these state-wide figures,” Mr Wilson said.

He said starting the $128.7 million expansion of the Ipswich Hospital, which will take the total number of ED treatment spaces to 47 and ED short-stay beds to 18 by 2016, was one of his priorities.

But Opposition Health spokesman Mark McArdle said the Ipswich Hospital’s ED bypass figures showed the system was not working. He said not only were more beds needed but better patient discharge systems.

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