Ambo wait puts lives at risk
CAIRNS paramedics are being forced to wait more than one hour before patients find a bed at Cairns Base Hospital, a situation a key union says is putting lives at risk.
The waiting times, which can vary anywhere between 45 minutes to several hours, coincides with a spike in emergency calls in the past month.
As a result, paramedics and emergency department staff are being forced to engage in the practice of "ramping" patients on ambulance stretchers more often until hospital beds are made available.
The Cairns Post witnessed seven ambulances ramped outside the ED at Cairns Base Hospital’s ambulance bay yesterday afternoon, with eight patients waiting for beds.
The situation left only one remaining ambulance for the entire Cairns region.
When this unit was called to an emergency at Mt Sheridan, Mareeba ambulance station was the closest first responder.
"It has been a huge issue for us, probably our No. 1 issue, for the last couple of years," United Voice Far Northern region state councillor Craig Crawford said.
"In the last month, it’s got worse, as in there’s been more patients ramped for longer periods of time."
The total ramping time for ambulances yesterday at the ED was 8.25 hours, with the longest individual ramping time for a patient clocked at 45 minutes.
Mr Crawford said while a range of factors was to blame for ramping, including a greater influx of hospital patients over the past month, paramedics were being frustrated by the "bed lock" problem.
"It’s heart wrenching for our crews because they’re standing on the ramp at our hospital listening to our comms department trying to get a crew … and there’s no one that can do it. It’s madness," he said.
"Someone could die out there in a house or in a car accident because we cannot send an ambulance, and we’re getting closer and closer to that mark."
Cairns and Hinterland Health Service District chief operating officer Robin Moore agreed ramping had been a strain on ED staff and paramedics, but denied there was a communication breakdown between first responders and hospital management.
"We have experienced unprecedented numbers through the ED, especially over this weekend, it’s been very busy," Mr Moore said.
"QAS and I are regularly in touch as soon as there’s any look of ramping, we’re in communication so QAS know what our processes are and how long they will be in that situation."
Meanwhile, Mr Crawford implored the government "to take control" of the ramping issue and implement the recommendations outlined in the recent Metropolitan Emergency Department Access Initiative to improve hospital management practices.
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Delays: Ambulances "ramping" at Cairns Base Hospital yesterday. Picture: MIKE WATT