By Kirra Grimes
CEO of Bass Coast Health Jan Child has welcomed a $1.17 million funding boost from the State Government, after an “extraordinary” flu season saw a dramatic increase in presentations to Wonthaggi Hospital’s Emergency Department.
The funding comes as part of a $4.8 million package recently announced by the Department of Health, designed to better equip Gippsland hospitals to cope with increasing demands, and Ms Child says Wonthaggi Hospital received a larger portion than other local hospitals as it was hit particularly hard this past flu season.
Ms Child said from July-September this year, Wonthaggi Hospital’s Emergency Department had 207 patients admitted with Respiratory Illness, compared with 148 patients for the same period last year. She said the hospital had an 8% increase in presentations to the ED from August 2016 to August 2017, and that most of that 8% was attributable to patients with Respiratory Illness.
‘Smashed’ by flu
Nurse Maree McFarland said the increase amounted to about ten extra patients coming into the ED per day.
“We were smashed,” she said. “It hit us really hard.” She said almost every second patient that came in had Respiratory Illness and that presentations of flu had only eased off in the past couple of weeks.
Ms Child said at the peak of flu season half the beds in the hospital’s 20-bed wards would have been filled by patients with Respiratory Illness. She said there was a time in August where 60 hospital staff were sick with Respiratory Illness, and that in her experience, she’d never had that many staff off work at the same time.
Ms Child said the $1.17 million government funding would predominantly be used to hire more nursing and medical staff for the hospital’s wards and Emergency Department. “What the funding’s done has allowed us to increase the number of staffing positions that we’ve got and what that helps us do is treat more patients as we need to and gives us more flexibility,” she said.
“The biggest growth will be in the ED, which is where we’re seeing the most patients. When you get more patients in ED you need more staff and so that’s where the bulk of our growth money will go,” she said.
She said the funding will not only better equip the hospital for next flu season, but for the upcoming influx of summer visitors to the area. “We get 100 patients a day through the ED during summer. The corridors are full of people. Winter clearly is a really busy time but for us the record number of patients actually hit us in summer times and so what we have to cater for is both that winter and summer increase.”
“It’s also about just treating more patients generally,” she said. “Our ED’s very busy and it should continue to be busy.”
Ms Child also said the funding boost would enable the hospital to keep paying its dedicated Infection Control Nurse to work overtime during flu season, vaccinating the entire hospital staff, as well as members of the community.
Community programs, such as Residential Inreach, Hospital in the Home and the Health Independence program, will also benefit from the funding, Ms Child said.
Why such a bad year?
When asked why she thought flu season was so bad this year, Ms Child said the reasons are complex and still to be determined but she said there had been queries among the medical profession about whether the flu vaccination was as robust as it could have been.
“With influenza you heavily rely on vaccination and vaccinations are only as good as what they’re targeting against,” she said.
“I think this year there were a lot more strains of the flu around than what the vaccination had anticipated for.”
She also said there are still some people who won’t get a flu vaccination because they’re misinformed about what the vaccination actually does.
“Some people think it actually causes the flu and that’s so not true. And other people have a view that vaccination itself is dangerous and that’s not a view that’s supported at all by anybody that’s got any medical integrity. We are very strong on encouraging vaccination.”
Another contributing factor, according to Ms Child, was that people aren’t aware of how to manage and contain themselves when they get the flu.
“They still go out. They go shopping. I knew of a lady who went to a podiatry appointment and infected her podiatrist. She didn’t realise that by her going out when she felt sick was actually creating risk to other people.”
“I think next year you’ll see a lot more community education telling people not to go out if they’ve got flu symptoms,” Ms Child said.