Ramping at the ambulance bay area of the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Monday, July 1, 2019. Picture AAPImage/ David Clark
Ramping at the ambulance bay area of the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Monday, July 1, 2019. Picture AAPImage/ David Clark

Flu just a sick excuse as emergency departments fill up

Just seven per cent of emergency department presentations made during the first five months of the year were flu-related, despite the State Government claiming the potentially-deadly illness was a main contributor to the southeast's hospital "crisis".

Health Minister Steven Miles has admitted the significant increase in ED visits was hard to explain, with latest figures showing there were nearly 850,000 visits between January and May - up 7.6 per cent on 2018.

The data comes three months after southeast hospitals were plunged into crisis, with each facility hitting capacity forcing the Government to spend $3 million on beds in the private sector.

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In an exclusive interview with The Courier-Mail, Mr Miles said work was currently underway to try and work out what was contributing to the increase and what could be done about it.

Mr Miles said he had suspicions increasing costs of private health insurance and population growth were among factors.

"Right now we're seeing an increase that is driven by the winter flu season," he said.

"But there is a wider trend, year on year, seeing big increases right across the year and that's harder to explain."

Mr Miles also listed difficulty accessing GPs, the quality of new public hospitals, an ageing population, obesity and other chronic illnesses as reasons why demand was growing.

He also said some people had the view the reduction in "relative value of bulk billing" was forcing some doctors to see patients quickly, meaning long-term, preventive discussions sometimes weren't happening.

Currently, one third of people are also using hospitals for minor issues that could be treated by a GP.

"All of those things probably play a part," Mr Miles said.

"How much each one is responsible for is hard to tell."

When asked why it was hard to determine an exact reason, Mr Miles said everyone had a theory on it.

Ramping at the ambulance bay area of the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Monday, July 1, 2019. Picture AAPImage/ David Clark
Ramping at the ambulance bay area of the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Monday, July 1, 2019. Picture AAPImage/ David Clark

"My suspicion is that they're (reasons listed above) all a bit true, they all play a part in it," he said.

"We have work underway right now to try and work out … how much each contributes and what can be done about it."

Despite the flu being blamed as a contributor to the March crisis, just seven per cent of presentations between January and May were from flu-like or respiratory symptoms.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said there was an 18.7 per cent increase in flu-like symptom presentations during January and May when compared to the same period in 2017 - Queensland's worst season in a decade.

"Not only have flu and other respiratory condition presentations increased across the state, but overall figures for categories 1-3 (serious conditions) rose a collective 7.7 per cent," she said.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said Labor needed to stop blaming patients for their failure to plan.

"A good government would be prepared for all scenarios but Annastacia Palaszczuk doesn't lead a good government," she said.

"The flu doesn't stop at the border and other states don't have the same hospital crisis like the one the Palaszczuk Labor Government is presiding over."

TOP 10 MOST COMMON EMERGENCY DEPT. COMPLAINTS

  • Abdominal pain
  • Viral infection
  • Unstable angina
  • Chest pain
  • Acute upper respiratory infection
  • Attention to surgical dressings and sutures
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Syncope and collapse
  • Nausea and vomiting