The number of emergency patients has reached unprecedented levels at Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH), which has been forced to shut down its day surgery to accommodate the demand.
“It does go up and down and we certainly see increases at this time of year almost every year,” said Dr Brian Spain, head of surgery.
But he said that previously, the hospital had not had to stop performing day surgeries in order to accommodate overnight patients.
A number of factors caused the increase, Dr Spain said, such as more cases of infections and the flu.
“It’s no single thing; increase in tourism is probably part of it, changes of the population,” he said.
“Territory people are a little bit older, the population slowly grows and older people need a little bit more health care.
“Things all each add together to increase the demand on the hospital.”
The hospital is rescheduling non-urgent surgeries to free beds for emergency patients, and hospital management said staff were working hard to meet the demand.
“Everyone is working amazingly hard, meeting regularly to actually look at what our demand is and planning for the coming hours and the coming days,” said Emma Reid, senior director of operations at RDH.
“We want to acknowledge and thank our amazing staff achievements, over the last few weeks it’s been really challenging.
Dr Spain said there was a limit to the number of beds that could be used due to overstretched staff.
“Staff always work really hard… but one of the things that limits the number of beds that we can use is staff fatigue,” he said.
“We can always do with more staff, but we have enough staff to cope with the demand at the moment.
“It’s a balance of the physical capacity of the hospital and our ability to look after people safely.”
In previous years, an increase in demand had been met by moving patients to the adjoining Darwin Private Hospital, and RDH is currently using as many beds as possible at that facility.
“But they’re often limited, the number of beds we can use, because of their nursing staff numbers,” said Dr Spain.
“So we can’t necessarily fill all of the physical beds because we’ve got to make sure that we provide safe care for the number of nurses for the patients.”
He said there would be some relief on the hospital’s resources once Palmerston Hospital opens in 2018.