Private beds to ease ramping
Waiting: Ambulances queue at a Perth hospital. Picture: Barry Baker/The West Australian

Ambulance patients will be diverted from Perth emergency departments to a private hospital under a plan to ease growing pressure on public hospitals and paramedics.

St John Ambulance WA will test an "ambulance surge capacity unit" using a spare, 15-bed ward for low-priority patients at Hollywood Private Hospital.

The trial will start this week in time for flu season, which is expected to be worse than average, and it comes as new figures reveal ramping levels are twice as high as the same time last year. Under the plan, priority three and four patients would be taken by ambulance to the unit, instead of an emergency department, and would be cared for by a registered nurse, a St John's paramedic and a doctor.

Patients could then be discharged, considered for an "alternative pathway" such as in-home care, or remain in the ward until a bed becomes available at a tertiary hospital emergency department.

St John's chief executive Tony Ahern said use of the unit would reduce the number of ambulances having to queue outside busy Perth hospitals, freeing them up to respond to other incidents.

"These patients often need to wait for extended periods of time until a bed becomes available in a tertiary hospital ED," Mr Ahern said.

"This creates the right environment for them to be cared for until they are able to be received by an appropriate facility.

"There is a possibility that some patients may be able to be admitted to Hollywood Private or even discharged once medically reviewed."

So far this financial year 40 per cent of St John's patients were deemed to be priority three or four cases.

Ramping levels in March and last month totalled 2358 hours, more than twice the number in March and April last year.

In July last year ambulances had to wait a record 2156 hours outside Perth hospitals and St John is predicting this winter could be worse.

"The last 12 months is running at double the 12 months previous to that, so we're going into this winter on a fairly high base," Mr Ahern said.

"When we get the normal spike you expect to occur (in winter), it potentially could be quite challenging for us.

"So if we've got patients who are low acuity and time isn't of the essence, the most important thing is we have them in a nice, safe hospital environment while waiting."

Health Minister Kim Hames said the ASCU was a temporary solution to meet increased demand for ambulance services.

"The opening of Fiona Stanley Public Hospital in 2014 will build capacity in our health system, but until then we have to manage our current resources as efficiently as possible," he said.

The West Australian

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