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August 29th 2008
Doctor speaks out for more beds

Dr Angela Moore Dr Angela Moore is a Magnetic Island General Practitioner and has been a working doctor in the Townsville region for the last 22 years. But right now she's convalescing after treatment at Townsville Hospital where she was a patient until early this week. Dr Moore is still unwell but she is also very angry and feels she can no longer hold back about the crisis at the hospital where conditions, she describes as, "like torture," currently exist. She believes it has been like this for years and, until at least 100 new beds are provided, will remain so indefinitely.

"All the staff there are under great pressure due to overcrowding. They are doing a marvellous job under the circumstances. But, when people try to work under these conditions, mishaps occur," Dr Moore told Magnetic Times.

While a patient, Dr Moore witnessed mishaps she described as having potentially "very serious consequences".

In her own case, "I was very ill but lying under very bright fluro lights for hour after hour," she says, adding, "But for others it could be days."

"It's like torture. I asked my husband to bring me some black fabric to tie around my eyes. It was like sleep deprivation - always getting bright light.

"If you can't go to a quiet place and have a sleep you can hardly get better

"As a medically educated and generally fit adult I can articulate the situation. However, many of those waiting in the Emergency Department (ED), as well as being very ill, are also aged and frail. They really have very little voice. That these sick old people are being forced to lie for hours under the ED bright lights waiting for beds in the wards is not only medically dangerous, it is negligent and cruel. It is an indictment on our society."

Queensland's Health Minister, Stephen Robinson, today denied that there was a crisis but admitted that, per capita, there are fewer beds available in Queensland hospitals than ten years ago. ABC News reported that in 1998 there were 10,063 beds in Queensland while today there were just 300 more. This is after population had increased by 800,000.

Dr Sylvia Andrew Starkey from the College of Emergency Medicine put it very bluntly, "Increasing the amount of time you spend in an emergency department leads to deaths."

Dr Moore says, "Clearly there has been a crisis due to the lack of beds and there has been one for several years. Queensland Health have been told by the medical and nursing faculties for years that the hospital is too small. The problems will remain until we have a hospital big enough to service this growing population.

"The elective surgery waiting times are very long due to this lack of beds. We have patients waiting in pain for many months for elective surgery. We can try to control their pain, but it is very difficult when elective surgery is repeatedly postponed. We see people gradually falling apart."

Dr Moore is still grateful. "I'm angry but overjoyed that we're in a place where I could get treatment. So it's still great to be able to go to a hospital and get the care I did."

Her biggest concerns were however for her many elderly patients. "Not a week has gone by in my practice over the last few years when I haven't had to compromise care because I know that the hospital is too small.

"And for years we have been aware that elderly people with chronic illness have been very reluctant to go in to hospital due to past experiences of being left in the Emergency Department.

Dr Moore says that there are other shortcomings about the health service. "Before anything else there must be many more beds made available," she said.

"With this hospital being far too small, the whole medical community is adversely affected. The government needs to act immediately to supply the extra 100 beds it promised before the last election."

In May this year the Townsville Greens attacked Labor over the lack of beds at Townsville Hospital. The issue was vigorously defended by Member for Townsville, Mike Reynolds, who cited the rapid growth in population as one of the major causes of the problem. To read the article and subsequent debate in the comments section (click here).

Story & photo: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Doctor speaks out for more beds
August 30th 2008
What does Stephen Robinson define as a crisis? How does he define one or define a crisis point?. Does he mean the number of deaths in relation to the number of patients? Or is anything short of this acceptable. Does this mean that distress (being kept interminably in Emergency until a bed is found, hopefully in the appropriate ward), humiliation (eg beds not being changed when a patient has soiled one), or discomfort/pain (eg Dr Moore's experience of fluro lights in her eyes - wouldnt that be fun if you were concussed?) or frailty or serioius injury/illness (and an inability to assert oneself) are acceptable and par for the course providing fatal and/or media attracting events are avoided, if only just. We are an extraordinarily wealthy country and state where it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect best medical practice as a given. It seems the Minister for Health lives with his head in the clouds, or perhaps its just that he has enough cash to be able to afford private health care when things go wrong for him or his family. Perhaps he thinks that if he denies things for long enough the problem will go away and he will still be able to hold his position as Minister. We pay those in government and the bureaucracy to plan (efficiently) for the future. It seems time is well overdue for finding a more direct means for forcing politicians/bureaucrats to do their jobs and be held accountable when they don't. Perhaps its time the Premier reviewed Mr Robinson's position.
Jenny Stirling
August 31st 2008
Ditto and no-one is criticizing the staff.
Carol Mills
September 1st 2008
Dr Angie, you are a real hero, we need people like you to speak up. Perhaps as a community there is something we can do to help in the short term, buy a bed or something? Perhaps get together and pay for wages for a nurse for 6 or 12 months? I am willing to put my hand up to help get something started.
Bernard Cooper
September 11th 2008
We're glad that Dr Moore is recovering from her serious illness. We look forward to urgent action to enable more beds for the sick people of Townsville. With health professionals speaking up about the troubles surely it is time to find some support from the government, rather than excuses that seem to never end. We're all behind you, Angela!

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