Shock as man dies waiting for treatment in a Victorian hospital hours after he arrived by ambulance

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The head of a regional Victorian health service where a 72-year-old man died following a cardiac arrest he suffered in a bathroom four hours after he was brought to hospital, says he should have been admitted within 40 minutes.

Key points:

  • A man was taken to hospital by ambulance and died about four hours later
  • Bairnsdale Regional Health Service and Ambulance Victoria are investigating the death
  • The president of the state’s Rural Doctors Association says the health system is under massive stress and system-wide changes are needed

Bairnsdale Regional Health chief executive Robyn Hayles said the man arrived at the emergency department via ambulance around noon on Monday at a time when it was experiencing “significant demand”.

He was still waiting to be treated when he was escorted to the bathroom by a paramedic and nurse, suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

“The gentleman experienced a cardiac arrest at approximately 3:30pm [and] resuscitation occurred over the next 40 to 45 minutes; he passed away at about 4:15pm,” Ms Hayles said.

She said the man was brought to hospital after a fall and had been triaged, assessed and received some initial care.

“The gentleman arrived via ambulance but hadn’t yet been passed over to our emergency department staff completely,” Ms Hayles said.

She said he was in the second-highest category of care required.

“We try to see those people in the emergency department, we try to get them off the ambulance, within 40 minutes and see them within our ED within four hours.”

An investigation into the man’s death is underway.

‘System under stress’

Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president Rob Phair, who works at Bairnsdale Hospital, said staffing was an issue right across the state.

A man stands in a hospital corridor wearing doctor's scrubs, a stethoscope, glasses and a face mask

Dr Rob Phair says the health system is under incredible strain.(Supplied)

“We have a health system that’s under massive stress,” he said.

“From the lack of GPs – everyone will comment how they can’t even get in to see their local GPs – through to our hospital emergency departments in towns like Bairnsdale and Sale and Traralgon, right through to the big city hospitals.”

He said capacity was also an issue.

“We’ll find routinely that the ward beds, the beds in the hospital itself, are all full, so we can’t actually send some of these patients to the rest of the hospital and then we can’t send them anywhere else,” he said.

“Sometimes we end up looking after several very unwell patients in the emergency department, and nursing staff are all used up, our doctors are all used up.

“Then we’re left in a situation where other patients are maybe with ambulance staff, or maybe they’re in the waiting room, and we literally don’t have time to even say hello and just ask one of the few basic questions that we should always be asking.”

Call for replacement workforce

Bairnsdale is in the electorate of Nationals MP Tim Bull who said the Victorian government needed to urgently address hospital staff shortages caused by the pandemic.

A close-up shot of a doctor noting down symptoms of a patient on a form with a stethoscope hanging around his neck.

State Nationals MP Tim Bull is calling for a plan to address shortages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.(Rawpixel: Felix)

“The frustrating issue of this is we’re more than two years into this pandemic and we need to have systems in place to be able to deal with these shortages when they arise,” he said.

He said staff at Bairnsdale have been putting in an “absolutely extraordinary” effort but staffing shortages were hard to overcome.

“We seem to have staff shortages in most locations,” he said.

“But when we have a situation arise, where things do become dire, due to greater than normal impacts in a particular area, we certainly need some workforce, that’s able to be moved to address and deal with that in those locations where it’s occurring.

“Whether that comes from the city or from another area, we just need a plan in place to address those matters so they don’t keep happening.”

The Health Minister’s office has been contacted for comment.

Posted , updated 

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