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Patients in limbo

The Weatherill Government’s failure to ensure effective discharge planning, particularly for elderly patients, is a significant contributing factor in the chronic underperformance of South Australia’s hospital system.

The latest Productivity Commission Report on Government Services (2015) shows that in South Australia 24 out of every 1000 hospital patient days are being used by older people waiting to enter residential aged care. Nationally the figure is just 10.4 out of every 1000 hospital patient days.

“Although the proportion of patients waiting to enter residential care has reduced since the last report, South Australia remains the worst performing jurisdiction with more than double the national average,” said Shadow Minister for Ageing Stephen Wade.

“A lack of effective planning means people spend much longer in hospital than they need to. It leads to access block, slows movement from Emergency Departments and ultimately contributes to overcrowding.

As the SA Faculty of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine noted last September, “chronic overcrowding” in South Australia’s Emergency Departments is caused by “long-term environmental and demographic factors,” including ageing.

More recently – in its response to the Transforming Health discussion paper – the College has called for “elderly discharge planning” to become “mandatory at the point of entry to the hospital.”

“Our health system needs to function in an integrated manner and the Productivity Commission figures show South Australia’s health system is not,” said Shadow Minister for Ageing Stephen Wade.

“Given South Australia has the highest number of older people as a proportion of the total population on mainland Australia it’s critical we integrate our health and aged care services.

“Indeed with the Productivity Commission showing the proportion of older people in South Australia rising from 16.7 per cent to 17 per cent in just one year, compared with a national average of 14 per cent, the need will only increase.

“The Productivity Commission figures also demonstrate that the Weatherill Government’s plan to halve the number of Adelaide’s Emergency Departments is a dangerous experiment with a network that is already stressed.

"Creating Australia's largest Emergency Departments will only increase unacceptable waiting times if there are patients waiting to be moved to residential care facilities."