Aged care providers are being accused of sending calling ambulances for patients with minor ailments.
Aged care providers are being accused of sending calling ambulances for patients with minor ailments. FILE

Aged care patients dumped in emergency departments

AGED care providers are being accused of dumping residents in hospital emergency departments as figures show a growing trend on the Sunshine Coast.

Figures released as a result of a Question on Notice by Member for Caloundra Mark McArdle revealed increasing numbers of aged care patients being taken by ambulance to public hospitals.

About 227 aged care patients have been taken by ambulance to Sunshine Coast hospitals every month since July last year.

That was up on the previous financial year monthly average of 195 and 159 for the year before.

Mr McArdle said while he couldn't say all of those patients didn't need urgent medical treatment, he did question how many were being sent to emergency departments for routine medical procedures.

He said facilities should be providing appropriate care to reduce the reliance on hospitals.

"Upon personal experience I've noticed there are a lot of people in aged care facilities being taken to emergency departments by Queensland Ambulance Service when that need not be happening," Mr McArdle said.

He said it was traumatic enough for people to have to be taken to hospital in an ambulance, let alone for elderly residents.

"Surely they deserve something better than being counted as a number.

"How about a bit of dignity for these people?"

Health minister Steven Miles said state-wide about 2180 patients were being hospitalised every month and that was expected to increase in flu season.

"Many for-profit aged care providers are calling ambulances with the intention of dumping residents at hospital emergency departments because their care needs have become too expensive or because they don't have sufficient nurses on staff," Mr Miles said.

"Once an elderly patient is admitted to hospital they are unlikely to leave, saving the nursing home from the costs of their care and allowing them to bring in new residents that require less medical attention."

He said he had been "absolutely dismayed" by the many stories of cases of poor or substandard care in residential aged care facilities.

"Now, we have data that clearly shows an increase in incidents where ambulances are transporting residents to hospital emergency departments.

"Many for-profit providers seem to be cutting back on expenses and staffing, so when a resident declines and needs medical support they call an ambulance and send them to a public hospital.

He said some facilities didn't have a nurse on-duty overnight or had one nurse on-call for multiple facilities.

"Residents who need care at night are taken to emergency departments with minor ailments that could have been treated by a nurse on-site.

"If a nursing home resident is seriously ill, an emergency department is the best place to be - but in many cases we're talking about minor ailments such as catheter management or changing a wound dressing."

Mr Miles called on the Federal Government to introduce minimum safe staff-to-patient ratios in all residential aged care facilities across Australia and increase funding to the aged care sector.

Ambulance transfers from aged care facilities to public hospitals

Sunshine Coast


Caloundra Hospital: 871

Nambour Hospital: 1037

Total: 1908


Caloundra Hospital: 710

Nambour Hospital: 1190

Sunshine Coast University Hospital: 445

Total: 2345

July 1, 2017 to March 8, 2018

Nambour Hospital: 700

Sunshine Coast University Hospital: 1121

Total: 1821


2015-16: 22,116

2016-17: 25,833

July 1, 2017, to March 27, 2018: 19,336

Federal aged care minister Ken Wyatt said the health, safety and welfare of aged care recipients was a top priority for his government.

"Current laws stipulate high-quality aged care, including appropriate staffing, quality monitoring, complaints management and strong compliance powers," Mr Wyatt said.

He said the Government announced a workforce taskforce last November which was due to produce Australia's first aged care workforce strategy by July.

"A new Industry Reference Committee is also currently being formed to tackle critical skills and workforce issues identified by the taskforce."

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said care provided by residential aged care facilities must comply with the most stringent national standards.

"Aged care facilities are not hospitals," Mr Rooney said.

"When older Australians in nursing homes require urgent medical attention that cannot be provided on site, it is our industry's duty of care to transfer these residents for treatment in a hospital.

"The fact is that the Australian population is ageing and people are entering residential aged care with increasingly complex care needs.

"Given the increasing numbers of older Australians requiring residential aged care, combined with their advanced age and higher care needs, it is not surprising to see increases in hospital transfers.

"A much finer grain analysis of the ambulance transfer statistics is required to understand the reasons why aged care residents in specific locations are being transferred to hospitals."

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