Oct 06, 2022

Doctors describe ‘Third World’ conditions in Sydney hospital ED

Text messages shared by an NSW doctor have likened a western Sydney hospital’s emergency department (ED) to “Third World” conditions after an 88-year-old woman with kidney failure waited to be seen for over six hours to be then told she would die, an inquiry heard this week.

The elderly woman was lying across three chairs in the waiting room when Emergency Medicine Doctor, James Tadros, was first able to attend to her, but he had to bear awful news.

Twelve hours after she first entered the ED and six hours after she was first seen, Dr Tadros confirmed the elderly woman’s abdomen was “riddled with metastatic cancer” and she would “imminently die from this”. 

“This is basically Third World,” Dr Tadros wrote in a text message to a colleague after treating the woman earlier this year, which was provided to the Parliament Inquiry. 

“They just keep prioritising the ambulance offloads who aren’t the sickest.

“The worst part is, her and her daughter have been so nice the whole time despite our rubbish care.”

Dr Tadros read the text messages to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Ambulance Ramping at NSW hospitals yesterday. This Inquiry was formed to inquire and report on the impact that ambulance ramping and access block is having on the operation of hospital emergency departments in NSW.

The inquiry heard ambulance patients often wait up to 36 hours to be admitted into hospital due to increasing bed block and overcrowding, resulting in inadequate and unsafe care.

Dr Tadros was among health professionals, union officials and experts to give testimony about the realities of the failing hospital system, including the pressures on emergency departments – such as inflated treatment times and staff burnout. 

The inquiry also heard patients had a 10% greater chance of dying within seven days of admission after experiencing delays in admission.

These issues are not isolated to NSW, as reports from all over the country have been emerging for years about the crisis in our hospitals and the impacts of ambulance ramping

In 2017, family members of an elderly woman blamed ‘ramping’ for the death of their grandmother in a Queensland hospital, who was diverted to a hospital where unknowing staff failed to treat her diabetes properly.

Last year, an 87-year-old Tasmanian man waited in the emergency ward for 30 hours before he was put in a hospital bed at Launceston General Hospital to be treated for pneumonia.

Earlier this year, an Adelaide grandmother was forced to lie on concrete for three hours after falling and breaking her hip waiting for an ambulance to arrive, and an 80-year-old woman from Perth died after waiting two and a half hours for the arrival of an ambulance after complaining of chest pains.

At the western Sydney hospital, nurses could not do anything for the 88-year-old woman suffering kidney failure while she was in the ED waiting room, including the delivery of any slow intravenous fluids, Dr Tadros wrote. 

“She’s 88, so a fluid bolus will just put her into pulmonary edema and might kill her,” he wrote in a text. 

“[I] found her laying down across three chairs and some bystanders were helping her daughter to slowly move her around because she was so weak.

“It took me 20 minutes just to get her into a wheelchair then wheel her around to find a space to see her.”

A NSW Health spokeswoman told the Sydney Morning Herald almost 84% of ambulance patients were transferred to an emergency department within 30 minutes, which is the best performance among all Australian jurisdictions.

But NSW Greens MP (Member of Parliament), Cate Faehrmann, said yesterday’s inquiry told a different story and NSW hospitals are overloaded, overworked and lacked the resources to adequately run a health service.

“Every time I ask the Health Minister about our broken public health system, he and his senior bureaucrats tell me that ‘everything is fine’ or ‘it’s just the result of a one-in-100-year pandemic, Cate’,” she wrote on her Facebook page

“And when I put these statements to our expert witnesses yesterday, they told me they are a gross misrepresentation of what is actually going on.”

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