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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 10 Hansard (17 October) . . Page.. 3040..

MR STANHOPE: Two sides of the street, Mr Mulcahy.

Canberra Hospital—emergency department

MR SESELJA: My question is to the Acting Minister for Health. On ABC radio last week, Dr Peter Collignon, referring to Canberra Hospital's emergency department, said:

We have a ward there of 20 beds designed for people to stay 4 or 5 hours but probably a third of these people are there for 20 hours or more. Now that is not good medicine to be treating people in places that are not designed for that.

Why are a third of patients in the emergency department waiting more than 20 hours for a bed in a ward?

MR CORBELL: There is no doubt that we face periods in the hospital when there is what is called access block or bed block. That is the issue that Mr Seselja is referring to in his question. But there is good news on the performance of the public health system in the latest quarterly performance report, which I released today. The report indicates, amongst other things, that access block through the emergency department is now 19 per cent lower than it was at this time last year. We are working on addressing these issues.

Why is that happening? The reason it is happening is that we have put more beds into the system so that we have more capacity to meet demand when it occurs. If you have more beds available, you have less access block and you have fewer occasions on which people are waiting for access and admission into a ward. Bed block through the emergency department is down by 19 per cent.

The report also reveals that the other very significant change that we have seen over the last financial year is that our bed occupancy rate is now down to 91 per cent. The best practice model is between 85 and 90 per cent. You do not want more than 85 to 90 per cent of your beds used at any one time; you need the surge capacity to deal with busy periods.

We were previously at bed occupancy levels of 97, 98 and 99 per cent, which put the hospital and its staff under very significant pressure. The average bed occupancy rate is now down to 91 per cent. We are heading towards that benchmark figure. That means that we are working to reduce the occasions when people are waiting for admission into a ward.

That is my answer to Mr Seselja. Yes, these instances are occurring, but at the same time we are taking steps to address the issue. There have been 147 extra beds put into the public hospital system since this government was elected; bed block through the emergency department has dropped by 19 per cent; and bed occupancy rates are down to 91 per cent from a high of 97 per cent, freeing up capacity and allowing us to deal with those busy periods.

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