Please note javascript is required for full website functionality.

Latest News

11 March, 2021

Code Yellow: Cairns Hospital under strain

Cairns Hospital has declared a code yellow for the first time in more than 18 months.

By Peter McCullagh

An influx of COVID-19 patients from Papua New Guinea and trauma victims have resulted in the declaration of code yellow, 

Key Points

  • A code yellow is declared with hospital infrastructure and resources are under extreme pressure
  • A total of six COVID1- patients in isolation in Cairns Hospital combined with near records ED presentations had placed the Hospital resources and staff under pressure resulting in the Code Yellow.
  • Some non-urgent elective surgery have been postponed
  • Longer wait time in ED are a result of the continued pressure upon Hospital services.
  • People with non-urgent conditions should see their GP before presenting to ED or use the free 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) telephone service 


The hospital’s Emergency Department received a huge spike in patient presentations over the weekend followed by 263 presentations yesterday, just 23 shy of its previous record (286) set on February 16, 2021

However, Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service executive director of medical services, Dr Don Mackie, said the sustained high number of presentations to the ED, alongside a spike in trauma admissions and several patients needing isolation for COVID-19 had led to the hospital declaring a Code Yellow. 

"There is an escalating outbreak of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea, which has resulted in several cases being detected in Cairns in hotel quarantine,” Dr Mackie said.

“Cairns Hospital currently has six patients who have travelled from PNG - all with COVID-19 - being treated in isolation.

“All patients were detected with the virus in hotel quarantine, and transferred to the hospital as per usual processes, to prevent any risk of community infection.”

Since the start of March, Cairns Hospital ED presentations are up more than 9 per cent from the same period last year, with a total 2272 presentations.

The daily average presentations to the department is 252 - the highest daily average for any month. There has also been a total 799 hospital admissions since the start of the month, which represents a nearly 5 per cent increase for the same time last year.

Dr Mackie said the events of the past couple of weeks have placed extraordinary pressure on teams and staff across the Health Service.

“Declaring a Code Yellow enables us to activate staff to assist with the load and support the Emergency Department, and the Queensland Ambulance Service,” he said.

“To assist with patient flow across Cairns Hospital, some non-urgent elective surgery has been postponed.

“Patients with appointments will be contacted individually to have their surgery rescheduled.”

He said the hospital would be able to cope with the increased demand in the short term but asked for Far North Queenslanders to be mindful of the pressure on local health services.

“Our trauma presentations have been increasing in recent months, including a spike just this week in road crashes,” he said.

“Trauma surgery must take priority and, as a result, elective surgeries and outpatient appointments are sometimes postponed.

“Our emergency departments continue to get busier every year.

“Typically, we see an average of 220-240 people through our Emergency Department every day. At the moment it is closer to 260-270 people each day.

“We are balancing our COVID-19 pandemic response with the continued delivery of essential health services.

“But we are asking Far North Queenslanders to please keep our EDs for emergencies only.

“We are still seeing far too many people presenting with non-urgent conditions such as needing surgical dressings and sutures.

“These are relatively simple procedures that can be performed by your local GP.”

He said in the long term, there were several initiatives being rolled out to address the increased presentations to EDs and address flow across the hospital.

“This includes initiatives such as redesigning the model of care for medical patients; early senior clinical decision making; improving patient flow; and improving our ED mental health services,” he said.

He said the Patient Access Co-ordination Hub (PACH), which was rolled out at Cairns Hospital in February 2020, was also being used to improve patient flow across the Health Service. “The PACH is in place to ensure all transfers from rural facilities are appropriate,” he said.

“We also had infrastructure changes to Cairns Hospital’s ED completed in early 2020, which have improved access the short stay and fast track treatment spaces in the ED.

Most Popular