Patients requiring urgent attention are spending almost twice as long on ambulance stretchers waiting for a hospital bed as they did a year ago.
An investigation by The Courier-Mail has found Queensland Emergency Departments are fighting a losing battle to process and care for the state's most serious emergency cases.
Ramping - when patients experience delays to admission - has become common but data recorded by the Queensland Ambulance Service for the first time shows how much it has escalated.
Figures show an alarming blowout in acute Code 1 and 2 patients waiting for beds after being taken to hospital, many under lights and sirens.Paramedics say they are spending hours as de facto nurses, monitoring and assisting patients in corridors or ambulances, when they should be back out on the road. The QAS considers 30 minutes a reasonable time for a paramedic crew to complete a comprehensive patient handover to a hospital.
Emergency Department specialists blame delays in getting their patients admitted to hospital for problems with ambulance ramping. After this timeframe, it logs what it calls "lost time in minutes" when a patient should be off-stretcher.
For the 2009-10 financial year, the service recorded a total of 984,842 lost minutes (16,414 hours) at the state's 27 major EDs. For 2010-11, this soared to 1,894,912 minutes (31,582 hours) - up 92 per cent.
The hospitals with the worst ED gridlock were Brisbane's Princess Alexandra (up 238 per cent ), Prince Charles (up 452 per cent), Cairns Base Hospital (up 220 per cent) and Gold Coast (up 149 per cent).
Information obtained by The Courier-Mail shows the trend is tracking even higher for the first quarter of 2011-12.
A Griffith University study into ramping, based on interviews with health workers, points to a lack of suitable beds, overwhelmed resources, communication and a "poor skill mix" among doctors and nurses as reasons for the log-jam.
Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the QAS data was the first evidence of the extent of very sick patients lying on trolleys. "Despite the enormous efforts of doctors and nurses, the Labor Government has consistently failed to understand the problem," he said. United Voice Ambulance Union co-ordinator Jeanette Temperley said there was no doubt ramping was getting worse. She said there had been reports of paramedics having to stay with patients still on the stretcher for up to nine hours.
She was told of one hospital that handed out an "RSL-style" meal buzzer to a paramedic and told him to bring the patient in when it went off. Results of a working group review of the ramping issue launched by Health Minister Geoff Wilson are due by May, but The Courier-Mail understands this timeframe is likely to be extended. ______________ | ______________