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If our system is sick now, what happens when Delta finally kicks down our door?

Opinion

Queensland appears to have miraculously seen off yet another “incursion” by the deadly Covid-19 Delta strain – yet our hospitals are already struggling to cope. Madonna King does the maths

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Something doesn’t add up. And the ‘he said, she said’ game over the State’s hospital system is a window into how healthcare might run, when COVID19 strikes north of the border.

After this week, with the political shenanigans being played out between Brisbane and Canberra, that looks as scary as the disease itself.

How could our hospitals be full now, when we are relatively COVID19-free? And if that’s true, isn’t that an indictment on our State Government?

Four of North Queensland’s biggest hospitals – Cairns, Mackay, Townsville and Mt Isa – put the ‘no room at the inn’ sign up this week, and issued a code yellow.

In Brisbane, front-line workers also tell of full beds, ‘ramped’ ambulances, and patients waiting hours to be seen in emergency departments. Waiting lists to see a medical specialist now routinely stretch out for more than a year.

This is before COVID19 strikes. Before. And on any measure, in any language, that is a monumental failure.

So what happens when COVID19 visits in a more permanent way?

Even the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young this week couldn’t agree – with conflicting statements over whether our hospital system is prepared.

Perhaps this is part of a political strategy by the State Government, which is demanding more money from Canberra to cope with a patient boom.

That request was quickly rebuffed by Canberra, with prime minister Scott Morrison accusing the Palaszczuk Government of extortion because the premier linked the state border opening to getting more hospital funding.

“I mean to suggest that they’re not going to open the borders unless I send them cash. How else would you like me to call it,’’ the prime minster told the Today show.

Politics. Politics. Politics.

So if the premier and the CHO can’t agree on our readiness, what is the true situation? And can our health system cope?

If you believe the word of our doctors, through the Australian Medical Association, the answer is a resounding ‘no’.

“We can see that we’re not going to cope if we have a COVID outbreak up here in Queensland,’’ Dr Kim Hansen said.

An emergency physician, Dr Hanson is the chair of a Ramping Roundtable which is made up of specialists, surgeons and doctors from across city and country areas in Queensland. Its aim is to solve the hospital ramping crisis before interstate borders reopen.

Dr Hanson paints a dismal picture of how our hospitals might look when COVID19 strikes north of the border.

Queues of ambulances banked up outside hospital entrances. Triple Zero calls being answered, but no-one available to help.

Make-shift tents set up outside hospital emergency departments because there is nowhere else to house patients, who also fill emergency departments, waiting for a vacant bed.

It’s an ugly picture – and one we have now been clearly warned about.

But shouldn’t we be ready? Shouldn’t our hospitals be sorted, and ready to go?

Wouldn’t the past two years be a clue to boosting staff levels to match COVID19 predictions, to order extra PPE, to free beds up? Even to build new hospitals if that is what it takes.

The fact that we might not be ready – as evidenced by hospital ‘no vacancy’ signs, ambulance ramping, specialist waiting lists and physician roundtables – is now on the head of those running it.

As Queenslanders, our job has been to abide by the restrictions, set by the politicians, to be vaccinated as soon as we can, and to look out for each other. And we should continue to do that.

But faced with the biggest health threat in our lifetime, surely it’s the government’s job to have our hospitals ready for any COVID19 onslaught.

Is that too much to ask?

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