Mayors call for urgent funding in face of ‘dire’ shortages at Ipswich Hospital

Three mayors have sounded the alarm over what they describe as a capacity crisis at Ipswich Hospital.

More than half of the hospital’s elective surgery waiting list has been sent to private hospitals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one third of residents are leaving the region for care.

Ipswich Hospital also called 29 internal emergencies in the 12 months to April — 12 of those due to bed capacity issues.

The West Moreton mayors of the Ipswich, Lockyer Valley and Somerset regions are pleading for urgent funding for the health service days out from the Queensland budget, voicing concerns the hospital is too small for the rapidly growing population it services.

The West Moreton Health Service encompasses Ipswich, the Lockyer Valley and Somerset Regions west of Brisbane and has the fastest-growing population in the state and is tipped to almost double to 588,000 within 15 years.

Needs of residents are also greater than average, with health service data revealing nearly two thirds of residents occupy the bottom two fifths of socio-economic disadvantage, 38 percent are obese and nearly half of deaths are premature.

Queensland Health said in March Ipswich Emergency admitted 7.4 percent more of the most serious cases — Category 1 and 2 patients — than in the same period last year.

The suburban center has one of the worst performing emergency departments in the state, seeing just 54 percent of 17,674 patients within the clinically recommended time in the March quarter.

Eight ambulances at parked at a lower lavel entrance to the hospital.
Less than half of people arriving to Ipswich Hospital via ambulance in the March quarter were seen within 30 minutes.(ABC News: Jemima Burt)

But Mayor Teresa Harding, who is a member of the Liberal National Party, said capacity issues at Ipswich were inadequate before 2020, when COVID arrived.

“It’s very concerning for us that the people here are not getting the treatment.

“They pay their taxes, they work hard, they should be getting that health care and that treatment right here, where it’s close to their homes and their families.”

Surgeries feel elsewhere

While it appears Ipswich Hospital is getting through its waitlist, thousands of elective surgery patients have been treated at private hospitals.

Since February 2020, approximately 5,300 patients were ticked off Ipswich Hospital’s elective surgery waiting list.

But more than 3,000 of those were sent to other private hospitals through Queensland Health’s Surgery Connect program.

Currently there are about 1,800 people waiting for elective surgery at Ipswich Hospital, but another 9,600 are waiting to get on that list.

Ipswich hospital through the leaves of a tree.
The mayors say Ipswich Hospital has been plagued by problems since before COVID-19. (ABC News: Jemima Burt)

In the three months to March, just 268 patients received elective surgery, and just half of category 2 and 3 patients were treated within clinically recommended surgery times.

During that period, Queensland put elective surgery on hold again to deal with the Omicron wave.

Graham Lehmann, mayor of the Somerset Region, is worried about how the region will fare in a decade given the service is unable to cope with existing demand.

“My biggest worry is people not being able to get health care,” he said.

“There’s people sitting out there on waiting lists now that have been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back.

Currently there are about 1,800 people waiting for elective surgery at Ipswich Hospital, but another 9,600 are waiting to get on that list.

‘I’ll call an Uber to Brisbane’

About one third of West Moreton residents are leaving the region for care, people like Andrew Stanstuick, who lives just 12 kilometers from Ipswich Hospital but said he will be paying for an Uber to Brisbane next time he becomes unwell.

The Redbank Plains resident in his 50s suffers from chronic back pain, related to a prolapsed spinal disc injury.

In February his GP advised him to call an ambulance when a disc shifted in his back, leaving him unable to walk or toilet.

Andrew Stanstuick on the phone.
Andrew Stanstuick said he will be calling a rideshare to Brisbane next time be becomes unwell.(ABC News: Jemima Burt)

Hours later he was picked up and taken to Ipswich Hospital, where he said he was left ramped in a corridor for approximately an hour.

“They took me off the ambulance took me through reception out back and then me into a corridor where there were probably eight other people waiting on trolleys,” Mr Stanstuick said.

“After about an hour or so I was taken into one of the rooms in emergency basically the curtains around you … the doctor came and saw me and disappeared … she came back and said, ‘Well, we’ve got no beds for you, so we’ll have to send you home.”‘

Mr Stanstuick said he then walked to a police station around 2am and an officer drove him home.

Queensland Health would not comment on Mr Stanstuick’s situation.

Mayors say targeted funding is needed

While there are a range of factors at play, the mayors said the prevailing issue is that Ipswich Hospital needs to be expanded.

The health service has a plan to expand and has completed a $2.4 million business case for the construction, but the multi-million-dollar expansion is yet to be funded.

The exterior of Ipswich Hospital
The mayors are hopeful a major upgrade to the Ipswich Hospital is funded in next week’s Queensland budget.(ABC News: Jemima Burt)

“The greatest need here is that we need the Master Plan — that has been approved by the Department of Health to be funded,” Ms Harding said.

The mayors say funding needs to be targeted at the areas of greatest need.

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