Tassie hospitals buckling under winter surge

RHH, Royal Hobart Hospital.
Tasmania Department of Health secretary Kathrine Morgan-Wicks said the emergency departments at Royal Hobart Hospital and Launceston General Hospital were confronting a winter surge of staff sicknesses and demand pressures. Picture: Supplied

Patients are being urged to reconsider their need for emergency hospital care as one state’s public health system buckles under a complex mix of staff sickness and demand pressure.

Tasmania Department of Health secretary Kathrine Morgan-Wicks has put out the extraordinary call, calling on Tasmanians to forgo the emergency departments at Royal Hobart Hospital and Launceston General Hospital without a clear need.

“Both hospitals and Ambulance Tasmania are experiencing significant demand for services while experiencing challenges with staffing due to high rates of unplanned absence, noting that Covid, influenza and other seasonal illnesses continue to circulate in the community,” she said.

“There are also a high number of patients with complex needs awaiting discharge, including a higher than normal number awaiting placement for aged care facilities and patients awaiting National Disability Insurance Scheme assessments, approvals and supports.”

RHH, Royal Hobart Hospital.
Royal Hobart Hospital is facing serious staff shortages and demand pressures. Picture: Supplied

To manage the overload, Ms Morgan-Wicks said the hospitals were “closely managing” elective surgeries to maintain access for emergency demand.

“This includes working with private hospitals to access contracted bed capacity and elective surgery support,” she said.

The health department has advised Tasmanians to consider alternative options such as urgent care clinics, a new model for emergency care trumpeted by the federal government, to get past what Ms Morgan-Wicks called a winter “surge period”.

The clinics provide bulk billed healthcare without appointment and are designed to reduce pressure on hospital emergency rooms.

Last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese opened a new clinic on Bathurst St in Hobart, the second clinic to open in the city.

Medical director Dr Mark Baldock, Brian Mitchell MP, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Housing, Homelessness and Small Business Minister Julie Collins at the official opening of the Hobart Urgent Care Clinic. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Chris Kidd

The clinic is open every day from 4pm to 10pm.

A clinic in Launceston opened on July 31, with services running from 2pm to 8pm every day.

“We ask Tasmanians for their patience and understanding should they experience longer waiting times for non-urgent presentations to the emergency department,” Ms Morgan-Wicks said.

“We would like to thank those who have used the alternatives to the emergency department and we encourage others to do so.”

Tasmania’s 571,000 population is heavily concentrated in Hobart and Launceston, with about 250,000 residents in greater Hobart and about 70,000 in Launceston.