Local News

REPORT | Cairns Hospital ED Struggling To Cope

There are claims that staffing within Cairns Hospital's Emergency Department has reached critically low levels, but the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service claims additional doctors and nurses were allocated to the Emergency Department to help manage the surge in demand.

Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union acting secretary Sandra Eales told News Corp the ED was at “crisis point”, with one nurse sometimes having to care for three patients in resuscitation bays – areas reserved for the sickest people.

The union is taking its concerns to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, forecasting a “disaster”.

Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service chief executive Clare Douglas has responded saying the ED had had a record 72,066 presentations last year, up from 69,552 in 2017.

“The health service has implemented many actions to improve workloads,” she said.

“Further actions have been proposed … however, the QNMU has rejected our offers.”

Ms Douglas said the health service looked forward to finding solutions for nurses at the commission.

In 2018, there were 72,066 presentations to the Cairns Hospital’s Emergency Department. This is the highest number of presentations ever seen in a calendar year, up from the 2017 total of 69,552.

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service activates a code yellow at times of peak demand to enable it to closely manage capacity and provide additional staff across Cairns Hospital if needed.

Ms Douglas said Cairns Hospital continues to experience growing demand year on year and 2018 was no different.

“Since 1 January this year, we have had higher than usual number of people presenting to the emergency department,” she said.

“We activated a code yellow between 4pm Monday until 2pm Tuesday to enable us to provide additional staffing and resources to assist with the flow of patients through the hospital after a period of increased presentations since 26 December 2018.

“On 7 January, the Emergency Department saw 224 patients with 105 of those being ambulance presentations.

“Additional doctors and nurses were allocated to the Emergency Department to help manage the surge in demand.”

Ms Douglas said the Health Service has been working in conjunction with staff to implement the recommendations of the 2018 independent Emergency Department review.

“This included an additional $3.8 million allocated this financial year for staffing the emergency department in response to increased demand,” she said.

“The safety and workload of all our staff is always a priority as it is through this that we continue to provide great care for our patients.”

“The Health Service is aware of the concerns from nurses to workload and has held regular meetings with staff and the QNMU to resolve this concern.

The Health Service has implemented many actions to improve workloads particularly in the Emergency Department which include advertising and recruiting skilled staff, use of agency staff to fill roster gaps, increased training with support from an additional nurse educator, and working with Emergency Department staff to develop new models of care to help manage increasing demand.

Further actions have been proposed relating to rostering and staffing however the QNMU has rejected our offers and have progressed the issue to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.

“We look forward to contributing to the discussions at the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, which assists parties to resolve workload issues, so we can find an agreeable solution to ensure the ongoing support for our nurses" she finished.

By Michelle Price