Hospital demand off charts before worst hits
QUEENSLAND hospitals are bracing for a surge in demand from patients in a move that is likely to cause delays at emergency rooms as the coronavirus spreads.
The state's health authorities are planning to boost front line health staff with casual workers but have held off directing staff to cancel leave or work overtime.
The move comes as Queensland Health data shows just over one in four patients were kept waiting longer than 30 minutes to be transferred off stretchers in January.
The latest statistics, from before the outbreak of the respiratory illness, reveal the worst performing hospital was the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, where 44 per cent of patients waited longer than the recommended 30 minutes.
Patients are not kept waiting in ambulances but are transferred into emergency rooms on stretcher or a chair, where they are triaged and attended to by medical staff.
But the figures show the pressure hospitals were already facing before the coronavirus crisis.
Across Queensland, 28 per cent of patients were triaged on stretcher for more than 30 minutes before being handed over to emergency room staff.
Logan, the Gold Coast University, Nambour, Ipswich, PA and Redcliffe hospitals all recorded delays for more than 30 per cent of patients.
The median wait time for patients in the state's emergency departments was 14 minutes in January, which is quicker than most GP clinics.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said hospitals were already under pressure and would face greater demand due to the virus.
"As we begin to see more cases of coronavirus in Queensland, our hospitals will experience even more demand," Mr Miles said.
"I'm confident our health system is prepared to meet this demand and I appreciate the patience of Queenslanders."
Opposition health spokeswoman Ros Bates said the data showed "Queensland's health system was already on its knees due to the Palaszczuk Labor government's mismanagement before the coronavirus hit."
Queensland Health is planning contingency arrangements for staff, including by increasing the use of casual nurses and doctors.
But a Queensland Health spokeswoman said it was also important not to cause staff to burn out as demand increases.
"While working hard on containing the virus, the team has also been planning the next phases of our response to keep Queenslanders safe," the spokeswoman said.
"This includes planning and ensuring staff are not over worked while balancing the increase in demand our hospitals are seeing."
Hospital staff are allowed to take leave but the spokeswoman said "we will work with our staff to manage their personal commitments and work requirements".
The Queensland Ambulance Service is also preparing to ensure ambulances continued to operate throughout a coronavirus outbreak but would not comment on the plans.