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15 May, 2022

RECORD-BREAKING …day in Cairns Hospital Emergency Department

ON Monday, May 3, the Emergency Department (ED) at the Cairns Hospital experienced its busiest day on record due to residents’ inability to attend GPs because of the public holiday and an increase of tourists in the area.

By Isabella Guzman Gonzalez

Cairns Hospital Emergency

The Emergency Department had 314 visits in 24 hours, surpassing the highest record set on February 16, 2021, by 10%. 

While the waiting times at the ED are of 40 minutes on average, due to the staff prioritising higher triage categories like major traumas, heart attacks, strokes, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, poisoning and many more, the average waiting time on May 3 was over an hour. 

Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Services (CHHHS) Executive Director Medical Service Dr Don Mackie said that getting through the busy weekend at the ED would not have been possible without the effort of the staff. 

“I want to acknowledge the hard work that the staff put into managing the quite remarkable demand, 10% higher than our previous highest record,” Dr Mackie said. 

“You can see that the increase was in the lower triage categories; that’s the lower degree of urgency. 

“So while the ED remains focused primarily on looking after high emergencies like major traumas, heart attacks and so on, the increase on Monday was largely in people with less acute problems.” 

Dr Mackie said there were many reasons why the ED had had such an eventful day. 

“First, we’ve got an increase in the local population due to tourism returning to Cairns,” he said. 

“Secondly, it was a public holiday; we know many people who postponed seeking care over the weekend and hoped it would get better by Monday, but it didn’t. 

“Third, we know the Cairns region is short of GPs; we’re working with the Primary Health Network (PHN) to help support the GPs and how we can address that shortage. 

“People are finding it hard to get into the general practices, particularly on the weekends. So that was the other driver the increased numbers coming through.” 

Dr Mackie said that the best way to avoid overwhelming the ED services is to use the 13 Health Line. 

“We encourage people to call the 13 Health Line,” he said. 

“There, they will be triaged and have a conversation with a nurse who will guide them on appropriate self-care and where they might go for the level of care they need. 

“We simply ask that you reconsider attending our Emergency Departments if you have a non-urgent health issue. 

“We know that there’s a long wait time in many practices to see a GP. So think ahead, prepare for that. 

“Retail pharmacies are open, and they’re in a really good place to give advice and medication and treatment for minor conditions.” 

CHHHS Director of Integrated Medicine Linda Bailey said they were looking for immediate and medium-term solutions to alleviate the pressure on the Cairns Hospital ED. 

“This includes a $26.4 million expansion of the ED, for which early construction started in August last year,” Ms Bailey said. 

“This program will deliver new treatment spaces and improved capacity for resuscitation and isolation, redeveloped waiting facilities and improved access to X-Ray within the ED space. 

“We’ve also been doing other work through the rest of the hospital with the Access to Care program, which is a clinically-led project looking at how we improve patient flow, early clinical decision-making, and management of mental health patients within the emergency department.” 

The staff at CHHHS want to remind locals that the emergency services should be used for critical care and that through resources like 13Health, they can help alleviate the overcrowding of the ED at Cairns Hospital.  


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