Western Sydney hospitals left patients waiting up to 20 hours after emergency departments limited bed spaces in order to accommodate staff holidays.
Blacktown Hospital closed 60 beds so that employees could take time off during the festive season, a paramedic source told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The hospital refused to confirm how many beds were made unavailable, but admitted it “regretted” delays on Monday (January 5). A 63-year-old patient who waited 20 hours in Blacktown’s emergency department also received a formal apology.
An insider at the Health Department claimed there were at least four other patients who experienced eight-hour delays on the same day.
Hospitals that breach their duty of care could risk medical negligence claims, a problem that is likely to be more prevalent when facilities are under-resourced and short on staff.
Rise in admissions
Western Sydney Local Health District Chief Executive Danny O’Connor defended the closure of hospitals beds over the holidays, claiming the decision was based on historical evidence.
However, he said: “We have received a higher-than-expected number of presentations over the Christmas and New Year period.” Mr O’Connor added that normal services would be resumed as soon as possible.
Health Minister Jillian Skinner defended the waiting times at Blacktown Hospital, stating that the facility had suffered an “unusual spike in patient demand”.
The news comes just weeks after a Sunday Telegraph report published figures revealing the extent of Sydney hospital shortcomings.
According to the data, only two of the city’s facilities were expected to meet proposed national standards of seeing 90 per cent of patients within four hours of admission.
Paramedics at breaking point
In NSW, paramedics must wait with a patient until a bed is available for them in the emergency department. If there are delays in this process, ambulances may be off the road for a considerable amount of time.
This is referred to as ‘trolley blocking’, and paramedics claim it is becoming increasingly common in Sydney hospitals.
Specifically, trolley blocking was blamed for the delay in sending an ambulance to Sydney Cricket Ground when Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes was critically injured after being struck by the ball in November.
The ambulance took nearly 25 minutes to reach Hughes, who later died from a subarachnoid haemorrhage caused by a vertebral artery dissection. The injury has just 100 reported cases, with this the only instance where a cricket ball led to the death, said Peter Brukner, the Australian team doctor.