Hundreds of nursing home residents are being taken to emergency departments for minor incidents.
Hundreds of nursing home residents are being taken to emergency departments for minor incidents. Kari Bourne

How minor incidents are clogging emergency dept

EMERGENCY departments on the Fraser Coast are being clogged by hundreds of nursing home residents who are being transported for minor incidents - nearly half the amount of hospitals in metro cities including Brisbane.

From July 1, 2017, to March 27, 2018, 420 nursing home residents were transported to Hervey Bay Hospital emergency departments for "acute incidents" while 216 residents were transported to Maryborough Hospital.

It's a stark difference to hospitals in regional areas including Gympie Hospital which had a total of 129 residents transported and a total of 59 from Gladstone Hospital.

However, the numbers are nearly half those being transported to hospitals including the Royal Brisbane Hospital which had 891 admissions from 2017-2018.

Queensland Health Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles said the number of aged care facility residents transported to emergency departments by ambulance had sky rocketed over the last three years across the state.

"In 2015-16 there were 22,116 incidents where an ambulance transported a resident of a nursing home to a public emergency department," Mr Miles said.

"In 2016-17, that number jumped to 25,833."

From 2015-16, 22,116 elderly residents at nursing homes were transported to emergency departments for acute incidents.

The number increased from 2016-17 with 25,833 transported.

From July 1 2017 to March 27 2018, the number had decreased but was still significant with 19,336 reportedly transported to hospital following a minor incident.

According to Mr Miles, from 2017-18, to date there has been an average of 2,180 residents per month transported and it's expected the number will increase once flu season arrives.

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Queensland Nurses Union Wide Bay organiser Linda Fuller said she was shocked by the figures and agreed it was a problem which needed to be addressed.

"It's quite amazing that somewhere regional like this can have half the amount of such a big metro area," she said.

"It absolutely says we need more qualified nursing staff in aged care to deliver eyes on, hands on assessments and for physical assessments.

"That way we won't have so many cases of QAS bringing residents to emergency for things which could be sorted at the facility."

In order to solve the problem of overcrowding in emergency departments, Ms Fuller said the solution was simple - hire more registered nurses in aged care homes and have them work every single shift.

"Some members (of the union) who work in the emergency departments have said they get aged-care residents come in for a myriad of reasons and a lot of them could be handled at the aged care facility," she said.

"I know the nurses in emergency departments are flat strap every day, every hour so when you're putting extra people on top of them which could be dealt with before they get there, you can understand how staff get frustrated."

A Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service spokeswoman said the hospitals treated all the patients who came through its doors and assessed everyone according to clinical need.

"The Wide Bay region and the Fraser Coast in particular, has one of the highest rates in Queensland of people aged 65 years and over, coupled with a large number of aged care and nursing home facilities," they said. "WBHHS remains committed to working with our partners to provide the best possible care to all our patients and to ensuring we are planning adequately for future demands on our service."

Mr Miles acknowledged when a nursing home patient was seriously ill, they should be transported to an emergency department.

However, the seriousness was often magnified, with cases involving catheter management or changing a wound dressing reason enough to be raced to hospital.

It was believed a number of for-profit aged care providers called ambulance with the intention of "dumping residents" at hospital emergency departments as their care needs became to expensive or there weren't enough nurses on staff, Mr Miles said.

"Once an elderly patient is admitted to hospital they are unlikely to leave, saving the nursing home from the costs of their care and allowing them to bring in new residents that require less medical attention," he said.

"This also places additional pressure on ambulance services and public emergency departments already dealing with increased demand."

Mr Miles said the Federal Government needed to "do better" when caring for older Queenslanders.

"Many providers are making big profits while receiving taxpayer subsidies but they're not delivering the services we expect or the services elderly residents deserve," he said.

"I'm calling on the Turnbull Government to introduce minimum safe staff-to-patient ratios in all residential aged care facilities across Australia and to stop cutting and increase funding to the aged care sector."



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