Growing emergency room ‘access block’ problem in Australian hospitals

Shockingly the number of Australians who die waiting for a hospital bed is on par with road deaths said a senior Canberra emergency department doctor. According to Australian National University medical school’s road trauma chairman, Associate Professor Drew Richardson, 30 per cent of emergency wards’ work now involves caring for patients whose initial treatment has ended but still await a bed. He suggested a seven-day-a-week surgical roster to avoid the build-ups of patients that overcrowd wards.

He will be revealing the latest Australian data on hospital “access block” at Australasian College for Emergency Medicine conference in Canberra today. Doctors will use the four-day event to discuss other issues facing emergency department practitioners, including Indigenous health emergencies and health reform.

Access block refers to the situation when patients are admitted through emergency but must wait eight hours or more to be taken to a ward. Canberra and Calvary hospitals’ emergency departments saw a combined 484 patients on Sunday last week, compared with a usual load of 280 to 290. This conference comes a week after the overload. The spike was linked to weather-related respiratory illnesses etc.

Professor Richardson said access block was a result of politicians and health bureaucrats paying “lip service” to overcrowding but doing little about it. He pointed out that about 1,500 patients a year died in Australian hospitals while waiting for a bed, a number similar to the road toll. His study of 77 emergency departments found 73 per cent suffered from access block. It was a snapshot study over one day in September. He said, “The reality is that overcrowding is leading to unnecessary deaths in our hospitals and that overcrowding has not yet adequately been addressed… We’ve got a situation that really hasn’t changed for some years and lives continue to be put at risk.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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