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‘Word salad’: Demand for real action to tackle Adelaide hospital crisis

A medical union chief says South Australia’s health system will be “cooked” in several years unless concrete funding and policy action is taken now.

Dec 06, 2023, updated Dec 06, 2023
The Royal Adelaide Hospital emergency department. File photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Royal Adelaide Hospital emergency department. File photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Fifty-three people were waiting for a bed at the RAH at 9.30am today, including nine patients who had been there for more than 24 hours.

Among those waiting in the emergency department ED were 35 mental health patients, of which 23 had been waiting for more than eight hours.

At its peak at 8pm yesterday, there were 122 patients in the RAH ED – well over its 69 treatment areas capacity.

The RAH, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre were all above 125 per cent ED capacity this morning.

Three patients at Modbury and two at the Queen Elizabeth had been waiting more than 24 hours for a bed.

South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland expressed frustration with the problems she said had developed over successive state governments, branding official statements on the latest crisis a “word salad”.

“What we actually need is to have this fixed,” told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“We need to have solutions. We need additional resources now because I worry in a couple of years’ time we’re done, we’re cooked.

“And to bring a health system back online to the extent that we actually need needs both federal and state support.

“I hope everyone recognises this. We can’t just break one piece of the puzzle – the whole thing is broken. The whole thing needs to be fixed.”

Mulholland visited the RAH ED yesterday after a doctor reported it as being “one of the worst days she’d ever seen”.

“When I came out of there yesterday it was really distressing to see what was going on and how distressed everyone was in that environment.”

Lengthy wait times were particularly distressing for mental health patients.

“Mental health is one of the most important elements to this… because we simply do not have enough workforce and immediate workforce and resources in our hospital system to assist them,” she said.

“It’s very distressing for a mental health patient who may have come in for mental health to spend quite a lot of time in an emergency department with all the bells and whistles and lights that are going on there that can exacerbate their condition.

“We know beds are coming on, we know that there’s a number of issues that everyone talks about – we can do this, we can do that – the trouble is it’s now here on our doorstep: patients are hurting, clinicians are hurting.”

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The bed block in the hospital system comes as Health Minister Chris Picton today revealed that November was the worst month on record for ambulance ramping in South Australia.

Ambulances spent 4285 hours – equivalent to more than 178 days – outside hospital entrances waiting to admit patients. The previous high was 3968 hours recorded in March this year.

Premier Peter Malinauskas – who came to power promising to fix ramping – is set to discuss health funding with state and federal leaders at a meeting of national cabinet today.

Picton said the Premier will raise “significant issues” with access to primary care and GPs, which are primarily the responsibility of the federal government.

“The Premier’s gone to national cabinet with a very clear agenda with health as our number one priority to discuss there,” he said.

“Because at the same time we’re going to be expanding hospital capacity across the course of next year, we are seeing significant issues in terms of people’s access to primary care, GPs and bulk billing that means that people get sicker and have to come to emergency departments in a more critical situation.

“It also means that we’re seeing more blockages in getting people out of the hospital system, particularly in aged care.”

Picton said at any given time there were 100 people ready to leave Adelaide’s hospitals who could not get appropriate care outside the hospital, particularly in aged care setting.

He also said the Premier would be raising “very frankly” the federal government’s hospital funding, saying he wanted 50 per cent funding.

“That funding from the federal government is stuck here at 38 per cent,” Picton said.

“So we haven’t seen that increase in funding from the federal government. All premiers are raising these issues, and we’ll be raising those issues at national cabinet today.”

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