Urgent search for short-term fix to SA hospital bed crisis

Health Minister Chris Picton is investigating whether he can “squeeze any more capacity” out of the private system and hospitals on the outskirts of Adelaide amid record levels of bed-block at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Jun 29, 2022, updated Jun 29, 2022
Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

This morning there were 62 admitted patients in the 69-capacity RAH emergency department, clogging the ED while waiting for a ward bed.

The doctors’ union says this is a new record level, following a record 59 patients in the same situation on Monday.

Acknowledging the worsening crisis not just at the RAH but across metro hospitals, Picton today said authorities were exploring what more they could do in the short-term to ease pressure.

“The key issue at the moment is that we have flu, COVID, other winter illnesses, also delayed care that’s built up over the past two years,” he said.

“What we are seeing is significant access block inside emergency departments where people have been deemed that they need to be admitted to a hospital bed but there simply isn’t available beds for them to go to.

“We have opened up every single bed that we have across the health system.”

The State Government has already leased 128 beds from private hospitals and Picton said he was investigating whether any more were available “but let’s be honest… clearly you get to the point where the private hospital system is at capacity as well”.

“Whether we can squeeze any more capacity out of the private health system we are certainly exploring, whether we can use any more peri-urban hospitals we are exploring, but we are doing everything possible as well to make sure we can discharge people to appropriate other levels of care,” he said.

Picton said he was discussing that with Central Adelaide Local Health Network, which runs the RAH.

“They are working overtime to make sure that they can open up any additional capacity and make sure any additional discharge can happen across the hospital to free up that capacity, to free up those blockages in the system,” he said.

“The demand that we’re seeing involves a high number of very sick people – people who are very sick with COVID, people who are very sick with flu, even in the last few days there’s been a significant number of strokes that have gone to the Royal Adelaide Hospital as well.

“Those people need beds, that’s why we’re committed to building additional beds in our health system.”

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SA Salaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland questioned: “How are we going to get through the winter which has only just started?”

“We need to understand if we do not have enough space, beds and we’ve got a very tired workforce, what is Plan B?” she said.

“I genuinely believe that this government is trying to do whatever it can to assist in the crisis but they’ve inherited a health system that has long been denied appropriate planning for their workforce, for their beds.”

Opposition health spokesperson Ashton Hurn said “the situation in our health system really is at boiling point and I fear there could be some catastrophic consequences”.

She called on the Government to reconsider its decision not to extend free flu vaccines beyond tomorrow.

“We’re seeing 600 people that are using a bed in our system at the moment with the flu,” she said.

“If you take those 600 patients out of the hospital system that frees up enormous capacity for people to come in with acute emergency issues.”

It comes as the State Government today spruiked an election commitment to spend $36.9 million upgrading the state’s ambulance fleet, including buying 36 new Mercedes Benz vehicles.

But Hurn accused the Government of failing to fix ramping like it had promised.

The Government says it was never going to be a quick-fix and that it is working hard on delivering its election commitments to open more beds and hire more doctors, nurses and paramedics.

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