Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 5 Hansard (31 May) . . Page.. 1304..
MS GALLAGHER (continuing):
getting through the emergency department. They are now moving pretty much as soon as possible—I think the benchmark is within four hours—into a ward situation where they will be dealt with. We have implemented a new paediatric area where children can be seen. Designated and dedicated staff work in that area to make sure that children are being seen quickly and to free up other areas of the emergency department for work with other patients.
Obviously there is more to be done. I accept that these figures are not acceptable. They are below the national average in category 3, where on average people wait 20 minutes extra, and category 4, where on average they wait 18 minutes extra. That is not acceptable and we need to do further work to address that.
Staffing is a big issue. In making sure that we have our full complement of doctors on duty, we have been looking at rates of pay to make sure that we are competitive with other jurisdictions. For some time, we have been trying to attract doctors to work in our emergency departments. Those attempts have been unsuccessful, so we have to look at the employment arrangements around that.
We are advertising internationally for staff, and of course we will look nationally. We will look to our own staff—the junior doctors and the registrars—as they can move forward as emergency department specialists. We will look at how we employ them and how we make sure we retain them. If need be, we will have to look to private providers if we need to contract staff. If we seriously cannot get employees—get them on deck and get them working—that puts significant pressure on the emergency department. I think that there are 101/2 emergency department specialists funded in the department and at this stage only six of those positions are filled. That puts enormous pressure on those doctors and affects the workload there.
We have been doing everything we can to attract doctors and try and keep them working here, but it is proving to be very difficult. There is an international shortage of emergency specialists. The medical workforce is international. It is not about working in your home town any more; you have to attract people from overseas. That is proving to be very difficult.
I have gone through a range of initiatives which we are working on to ensure that we are getting people through the emergency department and that those people who maybe do not need to be seen in the emergency department are moved into other areas of the hospital.
MRS BURKE: Thank you, minister. What priority are you placing on ensuring that the proportion of all patients receiving care in the emergency department within the required time has increased from 52 per cent?
MS GALLAGHER: I have probably answered that in the first part of the question. Another area we are looking at is a review of triaging. We are having some external independent experts come and have a look at that, to make sure that those processes that are in place are working and that there is not further work that needs to be done to address that. At the end of the day, the decisions on triaging and who gets seen and who gets seen first are decisions that are taken every minute of the day in the emergency department by staff. Those are clinical decisions.