No quick ramping fix amid WA health spend

·3-min read

Western Australia's government will pour a further $252 million into emergency departments amid warnings there is no quick fix to near-record ambulance ramping.

The package, to be funded in next week's budget, ensures there will be registered nurses available 24/7 in waiting rooms at 15 metropolitan and regional hospitals.

It follows the death last year of seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath, who succumbed to an infection after waiting for treatment at Perth Children Hospital.

About $74 million will be spent on initiatives aimed at freeing up emergency beds occupied by long-stay patients, while $55 million will go towards improving telehealth services.

"A lot of people who come to emergency departments would be better treated elsewhere, particularly by GPs," Premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Monday.

"We've got to make sure we get that balance more appropriate between those forms of care and our hospitals."

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson will lead a ministerial taskforce overseeing the implementation of 17 initiatives, including the opening of 120 new aged care beds.

Ms Sanderson said there were patients waiting in hospitals to be transferred to aged or disability care for "months, if not years".

"This is an abject failure of those commonwealth agencies," she said.

"We're stepping up and funding those transitional placements to give those patients better quality of life and to free up beds in the system."

Ambulance ramping, where patients face long waits to be handed over to emergency departments, has been a major issue in WA throughout the last two years.

The ramping hours for April, published by St John Ambulance, remained at near-record levels.

An independent review will be held into the death last month of a Geraldton grandmother who waited 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Another woman aged in her 70s who died of a heart attack that day at Busselton Health Campus had been taken to the emergency department but left in the care of paramedics.

Her death is also being examined.

The McGowan government has attributed issues at its emergency departments to high patient demand and COVID-related staff furloughing, having also struggled to recruit health workers during two years of border closures.

Ms Sanderson, who is in negotiations with St John over its contract, said she wanted to see a sustained decrease in ramping hours as a top priority.

But she warned it wouldn't happen overnight.

"We don't expect to see great improvement in the coming months given we're still in very high caseload numbers of COVID and we are coming into our winter season which traditionally sees high numbers of ramping," she said.

The Australian Medical Association welcomed the package but said an increase in recurrent funding was needed to address deep-rooted issues.

"The primary cause of ramping is lack of capacity in the system. Our hospitals are always full and patients can't get out of the ED," AMA WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam accused the government of a lack of urgency.

"The crisis facing our health system is not new, it has been escalating for the past few years and is a direct result of the McGowan government's continual under-funding," she said.

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