Patients dying unnecessarily due to crowded hospitals

A large number of people are still dying in the back of ambulances that can’t offload them, as hospitals in all Australian states and territories struggle with overcrowded emergency departments.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has delivered its Ambulance Ramping Report Card and the news is grim for hospitals countrywide.

‘Ambulance ramping’ refers to when an ambulance arrives at a hospital with a patient but is unable to transfer them to the emergency department due to a lack of staff and beds. Not only is the patient unable to receive treatment, the ambulance is then unable to attend any new call-outs, leaving people at home waiting hours for an ambulance to arrive.

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The report card found that every state and territory was failing to meet ambulance performance targets, and an increased number of patients were dying unnecessarily because of overstretched hospitals.

The worst performing state was South Australia. The state’s healthcare network has a target of 90 per cent of patients being transferred from an ambulance within 30 minutes. In the past 12 months, just 54.1 per cent of patients were transferred in this time frame.

Tasmania experienced the biggest drop in ambulance performance in the past year. It has stricter targets than SA, expecting 85 per cent of patients to be transferred within 15 minutes, and 100 per cent within 30.

Read: The surprising cost of ambulance call-outs

But in 2021-22, as Tasmania opened up and experienced its first major COVID waves, hospitals were overrun with just 65.9 per cent transferred in 15 minutes, and 79.6 per cent within 30.

The overcrowding and understaffing are costing Australians their lives.

In Victoria, where only 72.7 per cent of patients could be transferred within the state target of 40 minutes, 12 people died unnecessarily earlier this year when ambulances took hours to reach them. Among the 12 were four children.

In Queensland, a 98-year-old woman waited seven hours for an ambulance to arrive after fracturing her hip in two places. In January, a Townsville woman in her 40s died in her driveway after paramedics took more than hour to arrive.

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“It paints a terrifying picture for all Australians,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid told the Herald Sun.

“Ambulance ramping outside hospitals – sometimes for hours – means not only are patients not receiving timely care, but paramedics can’t respond to new emergencies. This is what we see when our public hospitals are in logjam.”

But Dr Khorshid was quick to point out that the blame lies with government and not the paramedics and other hospital staff, who have been stretched beyond breaking point.

“I want to be clear, we’re not saying ambulance ramping is the fault of our incredible paramedics and ambulance staff or our overstretched emergency department workers,” he said.

“This is a hospital logjam issue pure and simple, caused by a lack of public hospital capacity.

“It’s time the major parties use the last week of the campaign to commit to lifting our hospitals out of crisis.”

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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