From a case of the hiccups to sunburn, astonishing data reveals which non-urgent conditions are clogging up emergency departments at Sunshine Coast hospitals.
The region’s hospitals have seen 8127 Category 5 patients present to emergency departments (EDs) in six months, Queensland Health figures show.
More patients are turning to seeking hospital treatment for conditions including urinary tract infections (UTI), in-grown toenails and ear or throat infections that could be treated elsewhere.
The figures come amid revelations that May 2023 was the worst month for ambulance ramping in recorded history, causing paramedics to waste thousands of hours outside Queensland hospitals.
On the Sunshine Coast, a crucial 764 hours were lost that month. In total, more than 3890 hours were lost locally between January and June 2023, or 22 hours per day.
Health professionals are reminding patients that accessing treatment from GPs, pharmacies, satellite hospitals or urgent care clinics will help keep EDs available for emergencies.
“Our hospital emergency departments are facing unprecedented demand, with more ED presentations than ever before,” Minister for Health Shannon Fentiman says.
“Last financial year, Queensland EDs saw over 100 presentations every single day for a UTI.
“These are not the kinds of emergency conditions our EDs are designed to treat.”
Queensland Health data shows 53,804 patients presented to Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service’s EDs in the April, May and June 2023 quarter.
The local hospital and health service covers Caloundra, Gympie, Maleny, Nambour and Sunshine Coast University hospitals.
Ms Fentiman says all 317 Category 1 patients – the most urgent cases – were seen by a clinician within two minutes of arriving at Sunshine Coast EDs. And 74 per cent of all cases were seen within clinically recommended times.
“I want to thank our hardworking frontline health staff, who have ensured that 100 per cent of the most serious presentations were seen within two minutes, despite this demand,” she says.
Sunshine Coast Health chief executive Dr Peter Gillies says there are other options for residents seeking medical care.
“There are a range of alternative services available for those with less-urgent conditions, including our Caloundra Minor Injury and Illness Clinic,” Dr Gillies says.“We will never refuse care but I encourage everyone to find out the alternative urgent healthcare options available to them to ensure our EDs can be prioritised for seriously ill and injured patients.”
If you are unsure if you should attend the ED, call 13 HEALTH or your GP.
From 2022 through to April 2023, Queensland hospital emergency departments saw:
- 36,911 presentations for a UTI
- 28,064 presentations for attention to surgical dresses and stitches
- 11,995 presentations for an ear infection
- 6662 requests for repeat medication prescriptions
- 3764 requests for a medical certificate
- 1056 presentations for an in-grown toenail
- 280 presentations for sunburn
- 79 presentations for hiccups.
A $2.8 million upgrade is underway at the 103-year-old Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital. Some ward beds and patients will be temporarily relocated to Nambour General Hospital during the revamp, which includes external and internal infrastructure improvements. The emergency department and specialist outpatients will remain open for the duration of the works.