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'Bandaid solution': Lyell McEwin Hospital 'fix' under fire

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Patients at the Lyell McEwin Hospital will still need to be triaged outside on “most days” over winter despite a pledge to get them out of the cold, according to a senior clinician in the emergency department who says there is simply not enough room inside.

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Dr David Pope, immediate past president of the SA Salaried Medical Officers Association, told InDaily the State Government’s fix to people waiting outside the ED – highlighted by the recent plight of a 92-year-old great-grandmother – was a “bandaid” solution that would only exacerbate pressure inside the hospital.

“It’s not going to be a fix at all,” Pope said.

“The hospital is bursting at the seams pretty much every day. The entire hospital is so full that we can’t look after newly-arriving patients in any safe way.”

SA Health yesterday apologised and promised to move the outside triage system inside after 92-year-old Maureen Wortley and other patients were left to wait in the cold for up to two hours on Sunday night.

It came after the family of Maureen Wortley spoke out, posting on Facebook images of the great-grandmother on her walker outside the emergency department on Sunday night after a fall, saying she was left waiting two hours in the cold in her dressing gown without being offered a blanket or wheelchair before she was eventually admitted.

Maureen Wortley waiting outside the Lyell McEwin Hospital emergency department. Photo: supplied by family

The outside triage system was set up during COVID to test people before allowing them into the ED.

Premier Peter Malinauskas described the lengthy delays on Sunday night as a “substantial stuff-up” and ordered an urgent investigation.

Dr Penny Conor, divisional director of critical care in the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, yesterday afternoon apologised “unreservedly” to Maureen Wortley and her family, saying “there was a bit of miscommunication between a couple of emergency staff in the triage space and the staff who do the RAT tests”.

“I probably wouldn’t describe it as a substantial stuff-up, but yes we could have done better,” she said.

Conor said to improve the system for patients going forward, the triage and rapid antigen testing processes would be moved inside, with all patients and their families provided N95 masks, rather than being required to wear just surgical masks.

She said “only in times of surge or overcapacity will we need to move outside” and that heaters and extra seating would be added.

But Pope anticipated the outside tents would still have to be used on a daily basis because the ED regularly operates at 150 per cent capacity or more.

He said four treatment spaces inside the ED had now been taken over for the triage and COVID-testing process that had been occurring outside.

“We rely on those spaces to be available to accommodate patients coming into the department by ambulance and by other means,” he said.

“We are essentially losing some space that the outside tents were being used for.”

While he acknowledged it was important to “get people out of the cold”, Pope said “there’s just not the room inside”.

“On most days, especially into the latter afternoons and evenings or at times when we have surges then we’d need to use the outside tents because the people have to be somewhere,” he said.

“Over winter, probably most days we’d have to use them at certain points of the day because our waiting rooms will be full, there’s nowhere else.”

But Health Minister Chris Picton told InDaily “that’s not the advice I have”.

“I’ve spoken again to the CEO of the Northern Adeaide Local Health Network this morning and her view was that it would be a very, very rare instance in which that would have to happen,” he said.

Picton visited the Lyell McEwin ED last night to see how the new system was working and said all patients were being triaged and COVID tested inside, despite it being a busy night.

“I wanted to see first hand how it’s going, I wanted to speak to the doctors and nurses there first hand and I’m glad I did because I really got a good impression on the pressures on them, the pressures on the system,” he said.

“It was excellent to see the work that had been done in a very short period of time to change the screening procedures so that people could be seen now inside the emergency department rather than being stuck outside.

“Last night was a busy night yet everybody was able to be treated inside, there wasn’t anybody outside.”

It comes as the State Opposition called on the Government to release its winter demand strategy for hospitals, with concerns the state is facing its first full flu season in three years.

“South Australians deserve to know how the Labor Government is going to deal with the growing pressure on our hospitals during what will be a difficult and unprecedented peak winter period, so we don’t witness more troubling scenes like this,” Opposition health spokesperson Ashton Hurn said.

Picton said “we are already opening every possible bed that we can in the system”.

“We are also working on what the projections and modelling will be looking like for winter and additional planning is happening right now in regards to winter,” he said.

“If Ms Hurn is aware of additional beds in the system that were available under the previous Liberal Government that we are not aware of I would welcome her to tell us because we will make them available and open.”

The Opposition is also demanding the Government release the investigation report into the Lyell McEwin issue once it’s complete.

Picton said the Government would release all that it could without breaching patient confidentiality.

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