Several patients have come forward to report extreme wait times at the Warrnambool Base Hospital emergency department, following the story of an 86-year-old woman waiting more than nine hours to be seen by a doctor.
Two of the new patients to come forward attended the ED on the same weekend as the elderly woman, with South West Healthcare (SWH) acknowledging it was an "extremely busy" period.
"Hospital EDs are extremely busy environments where patients are categorised according to their clinical urgency. Patients requiring lifesaving treatment will always be seen first. We know how challenging it can be when other patients face longer than expected wait times but all patients, no matter their condition, are regularly monitored by our highly experienced triage nurses," a SWH spokesperson said.
"We will continue to address our wait times and support our existing team who continue to do an amazing job."
Deb Church attended the ED at 1.30pm on Sunday November 6 after a fall at her home in Terang. She arrived by ambulance and a doctor quickly sent her to get an x-ray.
"There was nobody there to take me around to radiology, there were no orderlies to take me around," she said.
"The ambulance officers had to take me around because they wanted to get me out of the ambulance."
Ms Church said she was pushed back to the ED waiting room at around 2.30pm, with her swollen leg - the x-ray showed she had snapped her fibula - becoming more and more painful.
"The ambos had given me pain medication that's quick acting but also wears off quickly, so I was in a lot of pain," she said.
The ambos had given me pain medication that's quick acting but also wears off quickly, so I was in a lot of pain,- Deb Church
"There were a couple of nurses in the ED. I asked one for pain relief and she said yep yep, but an hour and half later she hadn't come back, so I asked a different one and again she said yeah yeah and never came back."
Ms Church said the staff were "run off their feet" in the full waiting room.
"No one came around to ask if I needed anything, no water, nothing, for about eight hours," she said.
Ms Church also noticed the 86-year-old woman whose long wait was reported in The Standard last week.
"That poor lady, she seemed really distressed, very distressed, she couldn't sit still or get comfortable. She'd been there all day sitting in the wheelchair, nobody asked her whether she needed anything," she said.
"She was in a huge amount of pain, you could tell."
Ms Church said a doctor arrived to plaster her leg at around 10.30pm. She mentioned the pain she was in and was given her first dose of pain medication in nearly 10 hours.
"It's not the hospital's fault in my opinion, the health system just doesn't have enough staff," she said.
"You can't get into a doctor now, you can't get into a GP, so they end up at ED. A lot of people just gave up waiting and left while I was there.
The daughter of another patient who waited nearly seven hours on the Saturday of the same weekend also contacted The Standard to say they were "extremely concerned" by the wait times.
The woman said her 86-year-old father, who has dementia, attended the hospital at 5.30am on Saturday November 5, at which time the ED was "obviously already under a great deal of pressure".
She said her father was ultimately told he could not be admitted to the hospital because he needed urological surgery and the hospital no longer had a urologist after its only specialist left following a contract standoff with hospital management.
The SWH spokesperson said the weekend of November 5 and 6 was extremely busy, with the surge in patients presenting to the ED prompting a "code yellow" to channel extra staff to the department.
"This proactive decision was done in the interests of both patient and staff safety, enabling our doctors and nurses to effectively manage capacity of the hospital during an extremely busy period and prioritise those patients with the most critical need," the spokesperson said.
"We appreciate the frustration related to lengthy wait times. The weekend in question saw many complex presentations with very sick people, a number of whom needed transfers to tertiary health services. The level of care required for these patients is lengthy, requiring an extraordinary amount of resources, all of this impacts wait times."
SWH has encouraged people who need medical help but are not necessarily in an emergency situation to use the new Virtual ED service, which is staffed by emergency doctors seven days a week: https://www.vved.org.au/patients/
SWH is also opening the South West Medical Centre during non-business hours when possible, to cater to people who need a GP appointment but can't attend during normal work hours.
"We continue to work with our primary health partners to ensure that we continue to provide healthcare from a 'holistic' point of view, and we are doing our best to ensure that the community can continue to receive treatment or preventative management elsewhere, so that we can continue to divert presentations from the ED, and again work towards bringing wait times down," the spokesperson said.
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