The State Government has ordered a review into what it admits is an unrelenting surge in patients seeking treatment at public hospital emergency departments.
Demand has been growing up to 9 per cent annually in the past few years instead of the expected 5 per cent. But in the March quarter, metropolitan EDs struggled to cope with 145,301 patients - 15,059 more or an 11.6 per cent increase on the same time last year.
Health Minister Kim Hames told a meeting yesterday of the Australasian College of Health Service Management that despite more beds opening in the past year, particularly at the Joondalup Health Campus, hospitals had limited capacity to cope with the growth.
Ambulance ramping, where paramedics had to wait outside busy EDs to hand over their patients, had been high in past three months.
Dr Hames said the review would look at why demand was rising, including the impact of more mental health, obese and aged-care patients, and co-ordination with GPs.
Health Department figures show that in recent weeks metropolitan emergency departments have been treating more than 1700 patients on some days, with 1648 attendances on Monday.
The busiest ED is Joondalup, sometimes having almost 300 patients a day, followed by Royal Perth and Princess Margaret hospitals.
On some days ambulances have been ramping for more than 40 hours, including on Monday when they queued for 42.2 hours, forcing the 15-minute response rate for priority one emergency calls to slip to 88.5 per cent - below the 90 per cent target.
"The four-hour rule has been successful in reducing the number of patients waiting more than eight hours for beds but there's still not enough beds and ambulance ramping has been a big headaches in the last three months," Dr Hames said.
"They're working their hearts out in the EDs and wards but they're struggling. We're overloaded and we need to find out where these patients are coming from."
Dr Hames said hospitals would find it hard to meet national targets for elective surgery while demand for beds grew at such a high rate.
Figures show there were 17,259 people waiting for surgery at the end of last month, 479 more than at the same time last year, despite hospitals doing more operations.
WA General Practice Education and Training chief executive Janice Bell said more needed to be done to get GPs to carry out simple procedures to take the pressure off hospitals.
_Former Labor health minister Bob Kucera said the inquiry needed to look at the number of aged-care residents being admitted to hospitals instead of being treated in the community. _
Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said mental health patients still struggled to get the same access to treatment as other patients, including in emergency departments.