Specialists 'gravely concerned' over hospital capacity amid COVID-19 Delta outbreak


An emergency medicine physician says he's "gravely concerned" as emergency departments across the country are already at capacity, even without a possible influx of patients infected with COVID-19. 

And specialists say our intensive care units are tightly stretched despite reassurances from the Health Ministry. 

As the Delta outbreak ramps up, there's a warning. Our emergency departments are under significant strain. 

Dr John Bonning, the President of the Australiasian College for Emergency Medicine says it's a dire situation. 

"Our business as usual is at capacity and that's what we're concerned about," he told Newshub. 

 "We're overflowed with patients coming in and it's the patients that require an admission that are suffering unreasonably long waits".

Bonning told Newshub wait times for the "very sick" can be 12 to 24 hours or longer before they're able to be transferred to a ward. 

Two people infected with the Delta variant have now been admitted to North Shore Hospital. 

But with hospitals full - there's concern the risk of spreading the virus increases. 

"We're gravely concerned about our ability to practice infection control."

It's not just EDs - our intensive care units are also considered "very fragile". 

The executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Sarah Dalton warns the staffing shortage is serious. 

"We are just not in a situation across our health system where we have got plentiful doctors and nurses to throw at this. We are relying very heavily on the goodwill of an existing workforce that is already very stretched."

The Health Ministry says we currently have 385 intensive care and high dependency beds.

It says that could be increased to 550 beds if needed.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there's nothing to worry about.

"We don't have any concerns at the moment. Since the outbreak last year, our ICUs have had readiness plans."

That plan would involve converting areas like operating theatres and using them for intensive care treatment.  But specialists say the readiness plan is just that - a plan. 

"The system as a whole is really creaking at the moment," Dalton told Newshub. 

Bonning says increasingly emergency department staff are having to "ramp ambulances", where patients have to wait outside the ED in an ambulance until a bed becomes available. 

"I disagree that we have reserve capacity in emergency departments. We do not."

The Ministry says there are 753 ventilators across the country. It says the number of people turning up to emergency departments has dropped since the lockdown began. 

But the key issues remain - a lack of beds and staff, especially nurses many of whom have left to work in Australia or are currently engaged in non-hospital related roles.