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State's emergency departments struggle even before COVID hits

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Emergency departments are struggling with more patients, with more complex conditions, even without a major COVID-19 outbreak. The Palaszczuk government has agreed to make further reforms.

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Queensland today reported one new locally-acquired case of COVID-19 in a 15-year-old girl who attends St Thomas More College in Sunnybank. That cluster now has eight cases, in four of some 1,000 families now in home quarantine.

Yet compared to southern states, Queensland continues to record low numbers of COVID-19 infections, and even fewer people being treated in public hospitals. On Monday, there were 18 COVID-19 patients in Queensland hospitals, one in intensive care.

A report by the Queensland Audit Office, tabled in State Parliament today, found hospitals were already failing to meet targets for treating emergency department patients, including those being managed in ambulances ‘ramping’ outside.

Between July 2020 and February 2021, only one of the top 26 reporting hospitals met targets for off stretcher time and overall emergency length of stay. Yet there was a lack of data on ‘ramping’ ambulances and the use of short-term stretchers, which the QAO suggested would provide a more complete picture of the problem.

The report noted that while the inflow of patients was unprecedented, the internal challenges were not new; a lack of reliable data, including that shared between Queensland Health and the Queensland Ambulance Service, continued to hamper performance.

“There have been a range of strategies implemented to help improve patient flows; however, the overall performance of the system has not improved,” it found.

“Furthermore, Queensland Health has identified that strategies are not consistently evaluated and understood to ensure the effective rollout across the state.”

The report made five recommendations, following on from a previous report and recent funding increases from the government, all of which have been accepted by Health Minister Yvette D’Ath.

Queensland Health director-general Dr John Wakefield told the QAO that while his department continued to improve the system, patients would always be put before paperwork.

“The implementation of any administrative or process recommendations must always take into consideration the prioritisation of clinical care and must not inadvertently divert resources from patient care or affect the timeliness of care delivery,” Wakefield said in a letter tabled with the report.

The spread of COVID-19 through schools has prompted the Palaszczuk government to make masks mandatory in more places, and encourage more young people to get vaccinated, to help prevent an outbreak that would put hospitals under pressure.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said that in the first day of vaccines being available to 12-15-year-olds, 9,000 doses were administered and another 15,127 adolescents were booked in.

The Premier, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath continued to call on Queenslanders to get vaccinated before the Delta variant circulating in NSW, Victoria and the ACT causes a major outbreak in the north.

Palaszczuk told parliament Queensland’s border restrictions continued to protect the state from the “massive outbreak” in NSW but a breach was inevitable.

NSW has been reporting as many COVID-19 deaths in a day as Queensland has reported throughout the entire pandemic.

On Tuesday, the state reported 1127 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and two deaths, including a man in his 50s and a woman in her 80s.

Victoria reported 445 new cases and two deaths on Tuesday, bringing the toll from the current outbreak to six.

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