Hospitals urged to adopt ‘brave’ solutions to escalating health crisis

However, he strongly warned against leaving patients in corridors where there was “no oxygen, power, monitoring or call bells for them to ring if they were in pain.”

“We’ve got to put the patients at the center of all this,” Khorshid said.

On Thursday Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley blamed federal government neglect for the mounting pressure on the state’s hospitals and their workforce, warning the strain on the healthcare system is “simply untenable” without Commonwealth investment.

Foley said the situation was expected to worsen in winter as cases of COVID-19 and influenza rose.

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“What we need is hard commitments to deal with the mounting funding challenges,” he said, accusing Canberra of deliberately and willfully ignoring the ongoing health pressures of the pandemic.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has promised to sit down and negotiate with premiers, but has not committed to increasing hospital funding, warning of budgetary restraints.

Each year the Commonwealth pays what it paid the previous year plus 45 percent of the growth in state and territory hospital costs, capped at 6.5 percent growth.

However, all states and territories have written to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt seeking a 50/50 split and for the cap to be abolished, a change that would cost the states a combined $5 billion and the Commonwealth an extra $20.5 billion.

Earlier this week, Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Victorian chair Mya Cubitt said rising numbers of people being admitted to emergency departments must be shared throughout the hospital.

Cubitt said it was unfair to leave one emergency nurse with “50 or 60 patients” as she recounted distressing cases where patients were forced to wait days for a bed or had been receiving end of life care in overcrowded emergency departments.

She told radio station 3AW on Monday a 98-year-old woman was forced to wait two days in an emergency department recently. She also detailed cases of two patients, who had left emergency departments after becoming fed-up with how long they had been forced to wait. Both later died, she said. “The stories go on and on,” she said.

Judkins said an escalation system moving patients out of emergency departments and into hospital corridors and wards had already been used in the US during emergencies.

“They identified that, at a time of crisis, patients who were stable and safe can go to the wards on a trolley and wait in a waiting area in the corridor, or ward until a bed becomes available, instead of waiting in the overcrowded ED ,” he said.

For example, patients who break a bone, could be cared for by an orthopedic team even if their ward was full, rather than staying in the ED for days.

Lisa Fitzpatrick, secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s Victorian branch, warned moving hordes of non-urgent emergency patients could significantly add to the workloads of nurses in other wards.

She also questioned the practicality of the proposal, noting there were still roughly 1500 staff furloughed per day.

“We can’t just send a patient to a ward with no nursing staff or not enough nursing staff,” she said. “Some wards throughout the state have closed at the moment because of staff furloughing.”

David Story, head of the department of critical care at the University of Melbourne, said hospitals must do everything in their power to lure back thousands of healthcare workers who had left emergency departments and other wards to work elsewhere.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick.Credit:Luis Ascui

While Story agreed urgent measures were needed to ease the pressure on EDs, he echoed Fitzpatrick’s safety concerns and said an escalation policy must be carefully trialled to ensure patient and staff welfare.

Wilson, who has called for a health summit to address the crisis, said the GP fueling pressure on EDs must also be addressed.

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“People need to be able to see GPs at short notice with acute illnesses rather than booking in for next Wednesday and ending up in an ED,” he said.

“Access to general practice is number one to solve some of the overload on the system.”

Doctors warn cases of patient deaths reported in the media are just the tip of the iceberg and delays are leading to serious harm.

Earlier this week, the review was launched into the death of eight-year-old Amrita Lanka who died 21 hours after attending the emergency department at Monash Children’s Hospital with stomach pain.

Research indicates that long stays in the ED significantly increase the risk of patient deaths. A study released this year involving more than 5 million patients concluded that for every 82 patients who faced a delay transferring to another bed in the hospital beyond six to eight hours, there was one extra death.

The state government’s budget last week included a promise of up to 7000 new health workers and a $12 billion pledge to help repair the entire system, but medical groups and unions warn the impacts of those funds might not be felt for years.

A Victorian Health Department spokeswoman said it was in constant discussions with public health services about new models of care to manage the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The collaboration and adaptability our system displayed during the coronavirus pandemic, shows the commitment of our health services and healthcare staff to improving systems and patient outcomes,” she said.

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A spokesman for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Morrison government’s “strong economic management guaranteed the essential health services that Australians rely on”.

“This record investment ensures that Australia’s health system is ranked as one of the best health systems in the world and continues to adapt and respond to the changing health needs of Australians,” he said.

He said hospital funding to Victoria has more than doubled from $3.3 billion in 2012 to $6.9 billion in 2022.

The funding increase outpaced inflation by about 5 percent, but in that time, according to government figures, Victoria’s population increased by more than 15 percent.

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