Hospital emergency departments ‘deserted’

 

Emergency departments of major hospitals have been virtually deserted at times in recent weeks as people stay away during the coronavirus lockdown.

Normally hospitals are beset by long waits and buzzing with car accident victims, alcohol-related trauma injuries, sports injuries and, at this time of year, the first wave of winter flu patients.

Despite a small rise in one type of injury, the lack of activity in hotels, on roads and on sports fields have keep the waiting rooms relatively empty, St Vincents and Westmead hospital spokespersons told news.com.au.

At Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at 6am on Tuesday, when the accident and emergency department would normally be full, there were no patients in the waiting room and only six inside being treated.

By 9.30am, only a handful of patients occupied the room.

Waiting times at hospitals have been slashed, doctors told news.com.au, as people stay at home for fear of being near coronavirus-infected people.

Other factors affecting the reduction in numbers, doctors say, are people who might normally go to a hospital deciding to see a local GP instead.

Social distancing and frequent handwashing has so far resulted in very low winter flu rates, meaning fewer flu victims were attending emergency departments, a doctor told news.com.au.

St Vincent's frontline treatment of the victims of alcohol-related aggression and violence has plummeted since the closure of pubs and clubs.

A small increase in the number of domestic accidents and injuries has been recorded, Westmead hospital said, with the rise in working from home numbers, unemployment and DIY.

Injuries from sport, road trauma and alcohol-related violence are way down leaving hospital emergency departments virtually empty at times.
Injuries from sport, road trauma and alcohol-related violence are way down leaving hospital emergency departments virtually empty at times.

St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney has been quieter, although spokesman David Faktor told news.com.au its emergency department had "seen a bit of a pick-up as people are becoming less anxious" about catching COVID-19 from hospitals.

"There is an underlying concern that people might not come in and seek the treatment they might need because they are fearful (of) … exposure," he said.

"People should be taking up much-needed medical treatment.

"We have a really good system in place. Within emergency we have a COVID area and … we're screening pre-emptively."

In late 2019, St Vincent's was seeing about 200 patients a day in its emergency department. This had almost halved by the middle of last month.

 

St Vincents Emergency normally buzzes with cases. Picture: Adam Yip
St Vincents Emergency normally buzzes with cases. Picture: Adam Yip

By mid-March during the quietest days, only about 110 patients presented during the day. The ­average decline in patient presentations during March was about 20 per cent.

St Vincent's emergency department registrar Dr Giles Fick told The Australian since the pandemic hit, non-coronavirus presentations to the ED had dropped.

"Often patients present to the emergency department with things they couldn't wait for, rather than see their GP," he said.

"Now I suspect people have decided they might try and manage their problems at home, avoiding the risk of contracting COVID-19 in hospital."

Westmead Hospital emergency department nurse manager Donna Robertson told news.com.au its emergency department was experiencing fewer presentations than normal.

These included less trauma and sport-related injuries.

"There has been a slight increase in injuries related to home repairs and home cooking," Ms Robertson said.

But she said emergency staff "remain busy as we are using this time to prepare for a predicted peak of COVID-19 presentations during the winter flu season … learning new models of care and refreshing important training".

"We have created separate zones for suspected COVID-19 patients that require higher levels of precaution," she said.

"Staff are being trained how to perform certain procedures and the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

"We want to thank the public for respecting that emergency departments are for emergencies only.

"In the event of an emergency, please do not hesitate to dial triple-zero (000) and be assured that we have capacity to care for you."

candace.suttton@news.com.au

Originally published as Hospital emergency departments 'deserted'

RPA’s emergency department was virtually empty on Tuesday. Picture: Steve Tyson
RPA’s emergency department was virtually empty on Tuesday. Picture: Steve Tyson

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