Up to 18 hospital beds a week are going to waste on the Sunshine Coast despite overcrowding in public hospital emergency departments, ambulance “ramping” and elective surgery waiting list blow-outs.
Noosa News' sister paper, the Sunshine Coast Daily, has learnt that on any given week, five to 10 beds at Noosa Hospital are lying empty because of inadequate funding from the state government.
On top of that the new eight-bed Clinical Decision Unit at Caloundra Hospital is sitting idle as red tape holds up the recruitment of doctors to staff the facility.
The revelations came after an ambulance carrying a Mooloolah Valley man, who was in cardiac arrest, was diverted to Nambour General Hospital recently while en route to Caloundra Hospital.
The patient, who had underlying medical conditions, was declared dead on arrival at Nambour.
Noosa Hospital Community Board of Advice chairman John Crossley said the hospital was catering for 14,000 emergency patients a year - almost double the amount of five years ago.
“The problem is that the funding from the state government hasn't grown in line with the booming population on the Coast,” he said. “And (there is) unprecedented demand for health services.
“As a result, in-patient services have been hurt - in December, 2008, we were forced to cease providing public joint-replacement surgery.
“We can't stop people coming into emergency at Noosa Hospital - and everyone that comes through that department is treated as a public patient - so we have to prioritise our funding.
“The average hip and knee replacement is between $12,000 and $18,000.
“At this stage, due to the limited budget we have been allocated by Queensland Health this year, it is highly unlikely we will recommence public joint-replacement surgery before July, 2010.”
Mr Crossley said the sad fact of the matter was that if the state government increased funding to Noosa Hospital today, those five to 10 beds could be used tomorrow.
“We have the specialist staff, we have the resources and the demand - we just need the funding,” he said.
Mr Crossley said because the Noosa Hospital was a Public Private Partnership, investors were cautious about large future commitments.
“The hospital wants to expand but won't because the state government will take over the site in 10 years' time under the current arrangement,” he said.
“If Queensland Health was to extend our contract, then this would change and within two to three years Noosa Hospital and the Sunshine Coast would have dozens more beds.
“We have asked on many occasions for the present and past health ministers to visit the site, but none have.”
Mr Crossley said he believed Noosa Hospital could provide a more cost-effective service than most other hospitals in the area.
“We have streamlined the way that we do things and can achieve a high standard of health care at a low cost,” he said.
The chief executive officer of the Sunshine Coast-Wide Bay Health Service District, Kevin Hegarty, said it was Ramsay Health Care's responsibility to manage services within the allocated budget.
“The allocation and use of beds at the Noosa Hospital is the responsibility of Ramsay Health Care,” he said.
“The Noosa Hospital budget is a commercial-in-confidence arrangement between Queensland Health and Ramsay Health Care.”
Mr Hegarty said the new Clinical Decision Unit at Caloundra Hospital has been completed ahead of schedule.
“The unit is expected to open on schedule on February 1, 2010,” he said.
“New nursing staff will start work in January and the lengthy process of recruiting additional medical staff is also under way.
“Patients are already benefiting from the 12-chair renal unit, 12-chair oral health unit, which includes two special-needs rooms, an on-site dental laboratory and sterilising department and an expanded pharmacy department, all of which have opened last December.”