Hospital emergency: Thousands clog ED with minor issues

VITAL hospital resources are being wasted on patients that choose to use the emergency department instead of seeing their doctor.

In the past 12 months 20,000 people have presented to the Ipswich Hospital Emergency Department with illnesses such as toothache, earache and, requests for paper work such as medication scripts and medical certificates.

Last month, those types of minor health complaints represented almost one third of all patients seen by specialised emergency staff.

It's a drain on resources for a hospital operating under a tight budget, catering for a rapidly growing population and facing a flu season marked by an increase in severe cases.

Already this year the number of people presenting to the Ipswich Hospital Emergency Department is up 5.6% from this time last year.

There's been a similar increase, 5%, in calls to ambulances and while Ipswich Hospital says it won't turn people away, those with life-threatening conditions will always be seen first.

When a person presents to an emergency department they are placed in a queue according to the severity of their medical condition, organised in five categories with category one being the most severe.

During August, category four and five presentations represented 32% of all patients seen by staff in the emergency department.

That means 1691 people chose to go to the emergency department for conditions that most likely could have been treated by a GP.

The figures have been released by West Moreton Hospital Health Service in the wake of criticism from several Ipswich ambulance officers raising concerns about the welfare of Ipswich residents.

Paramedics are spending hours 'ramped' at the Emergency Department waiting for their patients to be admitted.

They say the 'ramping' is largely being caused by a shortage of nursing staff who are busy dealing with a crowded emergency room full of patients, some of which should have seen a GP instead.

The State Government Health Minister Cameron Dick says the demand for ambulance and emergency departments is higher than ever and he's calling for people to stop bogging the system down.

"We need Queenslanders to take responsibility for their own health too," Mr Dick said.

"We are calling on the community to play their part by getting a flu shot, visiting their GP regularly, and keeping Emergency Departments for emergencies."

Not sure? Call 13 HEALTH and a registered nurse will help you to decide where to go.

Examples of category four and five medical conditions

  • Rashes (except in a child with a fever)
  • Requests for medical certificates
  • Requests for repeat scripts
  • Minor coughs/ colds/ sore throats
  • Requests to be referred to a specialist outpatient service
  • Toothache
  • Earache
  • Requests for wound dressings/ dressing changes
  • Minor urinary tract infection symptoms


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