A week after Barbados TODAY highlighted the acute situation at the Accident & Emergency Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), in terms of patients having to wait for hours, sometimes days, for medical treatment, the hospital’s chief executive officer Dr Dexter James has admitted that the problem is very “acute”.
In fact, he warned today that it was now at the point of crisis and posed a serious threat to the lives of patients in need of urgent health care.
However, James told Barbados TODAY the situation could easily be remedied if persons who did not have genuine emergencies stayed away from the QEH.
In a bid to ease the pressure on the A&E, James said hospital authorities were currently working on a “fast-track” system for persons in need of “diagnostic investigation” .
But for the moment, he said the A&E Department was overwhelmed with a number of non-emergency patients “flooding” the QEH every day for treatment.
“A&E is now seeing close to 120 to 140 patients a day. This is relentless and has been so for the last two and a half, three months,” said James, adding that the situation was getting worse by the day.
“I think it has reached crisis proportions and really now needs the public to seek care in another environment that is more fitting for the type of care that they require,” he said.
“In other words, if you do not have a life-threatening circumstance, or a serious medical condition that requires an urgent care response, please seek care in either the polyclinics or from a primary care physician,” James added.
“The effect right now is that we get the hit because you have long waiting times in Accident & Emergency. Some persons have said they have been waiting for as long as two days in the emergency room.
“Clearly, these are not emergency-type conditions. These are the patients with non-urgent conditions that don’t need to be at the hospital at all.”
Based on the acuteness of the current situation, the CEO said A&E medical staff had been giving priority to “sicker” patients who are deserving of urgent care.
“They have varying types of medical conditions . . . elevated blood pressure, mainly NCDs [non-communicable diseases], and therefore require more attention and more time to be spent at the Accident & Emergency Department.”
James also expressed deep concern about the “domino effect” on the ability of the Emergency Ambulance Service (EAS).
“If all of your beds in A&E are occupied and the ambulance comes in with a patient who has an urgent medical condition, where would the patient go?” he asked.
“We can’t leave the patient on the ground or in the waiting area, so they would use the ambulance stretcher [gurney] until a bed is freed up. And of course, when more calls come for use of the Emergency Ambulance Service, the ambulances in A&E cannot leave without a stretcher.”
James stressed that “the ambulance is only as good as the stretcher in it”, but admitted that the QEH had suffered fallout from the increased numbers in the emergency room.
Investigations by Barbados TODAY revealed that while as many as ten calls were made during Tuesday afternoon’s shift, there were only four ambulances available with stretchers.
Today, when a Barbados TODAY team visited the ambulance headquarters in Jemmotts Lane, St Michael, four of the nine QEH ambulances in operation (including one Rapid Response vehicle) were parked up without the required gurneys, while the workers idled around outside with nothing to do. However, private ambulances and the Barbados Defence Force units were pressed into service.
Responding to the reports of a shortage of stretchers, one emergency worker, who asked not to be identified, said: “This crisis has arisen because of the high incidence of the chikungunya virus. If you go to the Accident & Emergency Department you will see patients lying on ambulance stretchers in the corridors,” the worker said.
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