MEDICAL CRISIS: Warwick Hospital's emergency department is being stretched to the limit by non-urgent patients.
MEDICAL CRISIS: Warwick Hospital's emergency department is being stretched to the limit by non-urgent patients. Jonno Colfs

Stingy patients swamp hospital

PATIENTS are clogging up the Warwick Hospital emergency department with minor medical conditions, costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year and putting at risk the lives of those requiring urgent care.

The latest Queensland Government figures show more than 1600 people a month were admitted to the hospital emergency rooms last year and doctors estimate up to 85% of those were suffering minor ailments that could be treated by a GP.

A GP medical centre and updates to the emergency department are believed to be in the pipeline for Warwick Hospital to address the crisis.

Warwick Hospital emergency specialist Dr Simon Tebbutt said during the festive season it was not unusual for 80 people a day to arrive at the department.

"On a daily average, 15% need to be treated as an emergency,” Dr Tebbutt said.

"They are genuinely sick and require attention but that compares to about 30% at the Toowoomba Hospital so, in Warwick, non-urgent conditions are a huge problem.

"The majority of patients arriving here are GP cases: They are coming in for repeat prescriptions or a doctor's certificate for work.”

Many people visit hospitals with non-life threatening conditions because it is free, they do not have a GP, and emergency rooms are viewed as a one-stop shop, Dr Tebbutt said.

"On a reasonable day we may get 40 people in the emergency department in Warwick and generally five or more will always be bacon factory workers requiring clearance certificates,” Dr Tebbutt said.

"The elderly are also a big problem, they don't want to pay a GP and they have come to call on emergency doctors as their regular doctor.”

It is a tribute to the skill and compassion of hospital staff that non-urgent cases aren't turned away.

But Dr Tebbutt said it wasted much-needed resources and put lives at risk.

"If we have a full waiting room, it can take resources away from patients in a critical condition.”

A $3 million expansion of the Warwick Hospital ED has been announced by Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service.

A DDHHS spokesman said the project was in the planning stage.

"In August the expansion was announced and the options for the redevelopment of the ED are being evaluated,” the spokesman said.

"The redevelopment will be designed to incorporate space for increased capacity.”

A user group, including members of the community, would also provide input on the project, he said.

DDHHS is reviewing other workforce options to assist with demand for ED services, he said.

Local doctors told the Daily News a GP medical centre was also being considered for the hospital this year.

DDHHS was unable to confirm this.

Dr Ross Hetherington, a practitioner at the Condamine Medical Centre, doesn't believe a new medical centre would prevent resources from being stretched.

"Research shows that when a medical centre is set up next to a hospital emergency department, it doesn't reduce the patient numbers at the department,” he said.

In the 2015-16 financial year 19,255 people attended Warwick ED.

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