Queenslanders are being urged to remain patient and cooperate with health authorities as the flu season sparks a record demand for the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS).
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick said an unprecedented flu outbreak had contributed to a 13 per cent increase in Triple Zero (000) calls so far this financial year.
“Last Monday (August 14) was the busiest day on record for the QAS with an extra 613 Triple Zero (000) calls fielded compared to the same day in 2016,” Mr Dick said.
“The most significant growth has been in Code 1 cases, the most critical patients, where there has been a 22 per cent increase in the past week, compared to the same period last year.
“In the past fortnight the QAS has experienced eight of its ten busiest days on record for Code 1 incidents.
“There have been 19,216 confirmed flu cases notified to Queensland Health so far this year and while demand has increased across the state it’s been most prevalent in South East Queensland.”
“As part of the Palaszczuk Government’s $10 million South East Queensland Emergency Care Action Plan implemented last month we’re providing new models of care, increased hospital capacity and 40 new frontline paramedics all to commence by 25 September 2017,” Mr Dick said.
“Nineteen of these will end up on the Gold Coast, 15 will be deployed in the Brisbane region and six will service the West Moreton area.
“Our $15 million Winter Beds Strategy has also provided access to an extra 90 hospital beds during surges and in areas of high demand.
“These initiatives have gone a long way to help meet the increasing demand but we also need support from the community, which is why we’re asking the public to keep our ambulances and emergency departments for emergencies only.”
Mr Dick said while the Queensland Government was responding to increasing demand for health and ambulance services, the Turnbull Government also need to do its part.
“That’s why I’m calling on the Turnbull Government to abandon any proposed cuts to funding for the national After Hours Home Doctor Service.
“Media reports today indicate that access to after-hours doctors could collapse and emergency departments across Australia could be overrun with one million additional patients if the Turnbull Government halves the Medicare rebate for home visits.
"Any cuts to the Medicare rebate for the home doctor service would be a disaster for our state's public hospitals and ambulance service.
"More importantly, it would make life harder for sick Queenslanders,” Mr Dick said.
A recent Deloitte Access Economics report on the impact of the home doctor service showed that 762,000 Queenslanders accessed the home doctor service last financial year.
The report also noted that from a survey of 50,000 home doctor patients across the country last year - 56% said they would have called an ambulance, attended an emergency department or attended an after-hours clinic if they couldn’t access a home visit.
It also shows that the average patient self-presenting at an emergency department costs taxpayers $368. This cost soars to $1,351 if patients request an ambulance. By contrast, an urgent after-hours consultation with a home doctor costs the healthcare system on average just $128.
Mr Dick said it is clear that any changes to the home doctor service will see even more pressure on our public hospitals and the Queensland Ambulance Service.
QAS Acting Commissioner Dee Taylor-Dutton said strategies were put in place prior to the flu season to cope with the predicted extra workload.
“Despite this unprecedented demand we’ve still been able to respond to our most critical patients within our optimum timeframes, but those with less serious conditions may need to wait a bit longer than usual for an ambulance,” she said.
“We expect it will be another week before the demand subsides.
“I also want to ask Queenslanders to do their bit to help reduce the flu burden by using QAS’ finite resources responsibly, which means only calling an ambulance if it’s vital to do so.”
QAS Medical Director Dr Stephen Rashford said many flu patients were presenting with cardiac and respiratory issues.
“In a lot of cases they’re having trouble breathing and those sort of symptoms require a Code 1 response,” Dr Rashford said.
“We’re also seeing patients who have experienced several days of sickness at home reach a point where they require an ambulance to get them to hospital.”
Minister Dick also reminded Queenslanders to use good hygiene and consider the urgency of their emergency by thinking about going to their GP not an Emergency Department if they’re experiencing symptoms.
Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services
The Honourable Cameron Dick