The latest data show Rockhampton is among the worst for ambulance ramping in Queensland.
The latest data show Rockhampton is among the worst for ambulance ramping in Queensland.

‘There’s no beds’: Hospital in code yellow during MP visit

Rockhampton Base Hospital was a in a code yellow when Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates and Mental Health Shadow Assistant Minister Rob Molhoek visited on Tuesday morning to see for themselves how serious the problem of ambulance ramping had become.

The latest data shows that Rockhampton’s ramping increased 27 per cent in the year to February 2021 such that nearly half of all patients were not transferred off-stretcher within 30 minutes.

Ms Bates called Rockhampton Hospital “ground zero” for ambulance ramping in the region.

“I can tell you that Rockhampton Hospital is currently a code yellow. I’ve been through the ED department, the ambulances are ramped, there are patients on trolleys, and this is becoming a regular occurrence,” she said after her tour.

“The official term is a category 6.3, which means there’s no beds. That means the ED is full – they’ve got nowhere to put any patients. The ICU is full. Every bed in the hospital is full.

“The staff are exhausted. What they need is more resources: they certainly need more beds, and if we speak to the staff inside they’ll tell you that they need the ED expanded, and they also need some ancillary beds, step-down units, outside of the hospital to take the load off the acute beds right now.

“Staff in there are stressed. They are taking sick leave, it’s harder to replace people, and they’re working double shifts. The staff in there are doing an amazing job, as are the paramedics, but this government needs to put resources on the table for Rockhampton now.”

Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates in Rockhampton on Tuesday.
Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates in Rockhampton on Tuesday.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath responded earlier to Ms Bates’ criticisms of an increase in ambulance ramping across the state.

She said public hospitals were experiencing unprecedented demand, that $4.4 million more was provided to the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service this year, and that the State Government was investing more in CQHHS than the LNP did in its budget in 2014-15.

Ms Bates denied those reasons were sufficient.

“We saw a bit of a drop-off during COVID because a lot of people were too scared to come to hospital,” she said.

“Now, it’s not at peak, it’s just the normal, run-of-the mill cases coming back that they would have had pre-COVID, but the difference is that they are more acute.

“The other day they had 48 ambulances in six hours. That is not unprecedented demand; that is the normal demand coming back post-COVID.

“Every Queensland Health budget is a record budget; it doesn’t matter which government is in power.

“As far as four-point-odd million dollars, that’s a drop in the ocean to what is needed right here in CQ today.

“For the staff here to straight away tell me that they were on a code yellow as soon as I walked in the door is unprecedented. Normally they try to avoid telling me those things and I’ve got to see it for myself.

“Rockhampton unfortunately has very many sick, obese patients, patients with cardiac disease, patients with diabetes, and patients with renal diseases, so you’re going to need to expand this hospital sooner rather than later.”

Ms D’Ath stood by her previous comments.

CQHHS chief executive Steve Williamson said the number of daily ED presentations grew from 136 in 2019 to 162 this year.

“There is no single apparent reason for the rise in demand,” he said, “however, in addition to the increasing number of presentations at our Emergency Department, we are also experiencing more sick patients that require hospital admission.

“The ED is a very busy location and has a big team of doctors, nurses, and support staff all working very hard.

“They use a triage system to prioritise care for the sickest and most seriously injured patients to ensure everyone gets the best outcomes. This means less urgent cases sometimes need to wait for their treatment.

“We have opened more beds to help with the flow of patients from the ED to the ward, and our staff have been identifying patients who can be safely discharged from hospital or stepped down to recover in another location.

“Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service staff have been deployed to COVID testing and vaccination clinics, and we’ve been appointing more nurses to cover for this.”

CQ Health confirmed Rockhampton Hospital was in a code yellow on Tuesday morning.

Facebook users commenting on The Morning Bulletin’s post about hospital ramping told similar stories of having to wait for treatment, despite widespread admiration for health workers.

“My 9-year-old daughter was stuck lying on a hospital stretcher in spinal precautions waiting 2.5hrs for a bed,” one wrote.

A woman said she “spent five hours on ambulance stretcher before I could be put in cubicle and the paramedics had to stay there until they could do a handover. And there were patients backed up behind me waiting also”.

Others had more positive experiences.

“Been there a few times over the last couple of years, and never had a problem,” a commenter said. “Everything has to be triaged.”

 “Quite the opposite,” wrote another. “Straight in with only one other ambulance there.”

Open Data Shadow Minister Brent Mickelberg also accused the State Government of “hiding health data”.

Queensland’s most recent Hospital Performance Data was released in March for the December quarter.

It showed 55,000 people were waiting for elective surgery during that period.

“South Australia updates its elective surgery wait list daily,” Mr Mickelberg said.

“Western Australia publishes its hospital data reports monthly, and Victoria has already released its first 2021 quarterly report.”

“The Health Minister isn’t releasing months of hospital performance data for Rockhampton, hiding the true failings of our local healthcare system.”

Ms D’Ath did not respond to Mr Mickelberg in time for publication.

Originally published as ‘There’s no beds’: Hospital in code yellow during MP visit