Action needed now on hospital crisis

26 Jul 2022

AMA Queensland President Dr Maria Boulton


Transcript: AMA Queensland President, Dr Maria Boulton, ABC Radio, Regional Drive with Adam Stephen, Tuesday 26 July 2022

Subjects:   COVID forecasts, North Queensland pharmacy prescribing experiment

ADAM STEPHEN:   The Premier says that the peak of hospitalisations is expected to be around 1,660 cases, and it won't arrive for at least another four weeks. So what's that going to mean for our already stretched hospital and health system? And how are doctors and people in those positions going to find the strength to be able to keep going when they're already under pressure? Dr Maria Boulton is the President of the Australian Medical Association Queensland. Is it pretty hard to hear that modelling released by the Premier today, Annastacia Palaszczuk, saying we're a month away from the peak in hospitalisations for this wave, Dr Maria Boulton?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Yes, it's really hard. I visited a large hospital in Brisbane a few weeks back and they are already struggling. There were so many people on the hallway in stretchers waiting for an emergency bed. The ambulances were ramped and there were a handful of people who'd been waiting in emergency for over a day to get a hospital bed. And one of the ladies who was waiting in one of those beds had had a stroke and she'd had to sit in emergency for over a day to get a hospital bed. I can't even imagine what effect this is going to have on what's already a very, very stretched healthcare system.

ADAM STEPHEN:   How are doctors coping at the moment with the current workload, given we are at this point already at a new level of peak hospitalisation, but presumably also at a new level of peak demand from people in the community needing to see a doctor?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Look, healthcare workers have been amazing throughout all of this. And I know that there are many who are currently sick, who would be gladly working if they could, but can't because they're sick. I'm a GP and I know that there's many GPs who have been doing telehealth from home because they've had COVID and yet they still consult with their patients via telehealth.

I know that there are emergency physicians who are working on their days off and I know that there's also emergency physicians that are doing telehealth when they have COVID themselves. So everyone's putting in the hard yards. I don't think we've ever worked as hard as we have, doctors, nurses, everyone involved in healthcare. It's a system that's in crisis and it's a system that's fatigued. We need to turn this wave around. Modelling is modelling and whatever we do today, hopefully in two weeks we'll see lower numbers and I just implore for people to do everything possible to bring those numbers down.

ADAM STEPHEN:   And yet the Prime Minister and the Premier have been at pains to point out that they aren't going to be mandating masks. They just won't do it. They say compliance. Who's going to actually enforce the rule for starters? And also with every rule that you make, it does have an adverse impact on people's mental health when they're told what to do. People just need to take personal responsibility here. Do doctors agree, do doctors think there's not much merit in a mask mandate at this point?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   We've never stopped recommending masks in indoor areas where you can't socially distance. And certainly at the moment we continue to recommend them. Every time I go to the supermarket, I wear a mask. My kids wear a mask.

ADAM STEPHEN:   But you're in the minority, Maria.

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Absolutely Adam. And I went to the shops yesterday and I can tell you 20 per cent to 30 per cent of people were wearing masks. But the reality is that the strain in the hospital system affects us all. So if you have a car crash and you break your leg, if you have a stroke, if you have a heart attack, you're going to end up in that clogged-up system, and even though you may not have COVID, you will still be affected. Elective surgeries are being cancelled. We know that outpatient appointments are being delayed. So everyone's going to be affected. And honestly, if you were a human and you stepped into an emergency department and you see what's going on, you would put on a mask.

ADAM STEPHEN:   Just a final point with this wave yet to peak, with hospitalisations yet to peak for about another month, are we worried that we will see some people just get completely burned out from the profession in this next month or so?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Yeah. There's people who have already left the profession because of the stress. I mean, we've been in this roller coaster for two and a half years now and the strain on healthcare workers has been massive. People get pandemic fatigue. So do we. We're also at the mercy of new announcements that get made via media that change week to week. We just have to adapt and cope and keep going. But we are concerned about the workforce.

I guess our call today to the Minister and the state health department is, what's happening with our workforce? Are there plans to talk to the private hospitals? Are there plans to further fund general practice so that we can continue to support our hospital system? Because otherwise, our hospitals are not going to be able to cope.

ADAM STEPHEN:   I've only got a minute for you to answer this, but there are plans to try and alleviate some of the pressure on GPs by allowing pharmacists to prescribe some medications and treat some conditions, which AMA Queensland is dead against. So would you have to reconsider that position?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Not at all. Because in the end, we're concerned about patient safety. I mean, I trained as a GP, it took me 12 years to be able to call myself a GP. And I have many colleagues who used to be pharmacists before they were GPs, and they will tell you that they didn't know what they didn't know. We know that patients have adverse outcomes when they have received scripts prescribed by pharmacists. We know that for a fact. And we know that people deserve to be cared for by doctors. And if we need more doctors, why aren't we getting more doctors? That's the solution there.

ADAM STEPHEN:   Dr Maria Boulton, thank you for joining us.

Published: 26 Jul 2022