Inadequate hospital stats blurs region's ice picture

NOT enough information is shared between hospitals and agencies tasked with stemming the flow of ice into south-west communities, the head of South West Healthcare’s emergency department says. 

Physician Dr Tim Baker told the ice inquiry there was little way for agencies to know how many patients using the drug presented at urgent care in rural hospitals. 

In their evidence to the inquiry, Dr Baker, addiction medicine physician Dr Rodger Brough and psychiatry director Dr Anshuman Pant said alcohol remained the key problem for the hospital but added ice was an emerging issue, particularly in Portland. 

“The emergency department does manage confused and agitated patients we believe have used methamphetamines,” Dr Baker said.

“I find with speed, people are very aggressive. But with ice people are very confused and harder to predict.”

He said ice appeared to be more prevalent in the Portland community. 

Dr Baker said a program sharing the figures between hospitals and police in Wales in the United Kingdom had helped reduce cases of alcohol-fuelled violence.  “Emergency departments play an important role in the surveillance of drugs and injuries caused by alcohol ... and incidents not reported to police.” 

Information about patients treated in emergency is collected in the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD) but cases of ice and drug use can slip through the collection and never show up later on.

“If you searched for ice you would pick up a case where a 13-year-old girl may have twisted her ankle and the teacher may have applied ice — it gives the entirely wrong impression,” he said. 

Dr Baker said smaller rural hospitals did not use the VEMD. 

“In rural areas only the largest of emergency departments do, which means that 50 rural emergency departments don’t collect any of this data at all. They only record their total number of patients. As they see 150,000 patients a year — which is nine per cent off all patients. This is a significant blind spot,” Dr Baker said.

Dr Brough said there had “been more enquires about ice” at SWH’s addiction recovery service. 

“The ones I’ve had from the south-west have been from Portland. My impression is that Portland is seeing more of the ice problems presented to doctors and the hospital than we are here (in Warrnambool),” Dr Brough said. 

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