Perth’s public hospitals have been forced to declare more than 500 code yellows in the past year as capacity issues continue to plague the health system.
Worst impacted was Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, which went into code yellow 144 times in 2021-22 – an average of once every two and a half days.
That was followed by Perth Children’s Hospital (89 code yellows), Fiona Stanley Hospital (74) and Royal Perth Hospital (68).
The city’s biggest maternity hospital, King Edward Memorial, declared 36 code yellows in the year to July.
A code yellow refers to an infrastructure or other internal emergency that is impacting service delivery – including a lack of available beds.
Shadow Health Minister Libby Mettam said the “shocking” figures – contained in answers to questions in Parliament – pointed to a health system that was “significantly under-resourced and lurching from crisis to crisis”.
The McGowan Government has rolled out 420 of the 530 additional hospital beds it promised last year as part of preparations for the arrival of COVID but Ms Mettam said it was clear the public system still did not have enough capacity.
“These 530 beds are in effect the same ones that were closed shortly after Labor first came to power in 2017 which points to a government that has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to supporting WA patients,” she said.
“Especially concerning are the number of code yellows the figures from PCH and King Eddie’s, hospitals that look after sick children and birthing mothers and are clearly under exceptional pressure.”
Figures previously provided by WA Health revealed the public health system was short more than 100 midwives and 350 junior doctors.
There were also more than 300 pregnant women placed on “maternity bypass” and forced to attend alternative hospitals on the day of their deliveries in the past year.
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said public health systems around the country were under pressure as a result of “global workforce shortages, the pandemic and sick leave”.
“The (code yellow) alerts are a moment in time and hospitals can change status multiple times throughout the day. The status of hospitals changes as patients move through the system and demands ebb and flow,” Ms Sanderson said.
“There is no doubt our hospitals are busy, as is the case across the country, but they are coping well with the demands of the pandemic and we sincerely thank our healthcare workforce for their continued dedication.”
Australian Medical Association (WA) president Mark Duncan-Smith said code yellows are “nearly unheard of” when he was a junior doctor but had become increasingly frequent in recent years.
“It is a direct consequence of the McGowan Government running the medical system into the ground over the last five years with inadequate funding of health’s operational budget,” Dr Duncan-Smith said.
“Often politicians will say code yellows are a normal procedural event but that is wrong – they shouldn’t happen anywhere near as often as they do and indicate a system that has inadequate capacity.”
He added that the “true” number of code yellows was likely much higher because some hospitals felt “political pressure” not to make the declaration even when all beds were full.
There were 513 total code yellows across the metropolitan area in 2021-22, with every hospital besides Kalamunda declaring at least one.
COVID has forced thousands of frontline medical personnel into isolation since the start of the year, further exacerbating staffing shortages.
A lack of available beds has contributed to unprecedented levels of ambulance ramping, with paramedics made to wait nearly 7000 hours to transfer their patients to the care of hospitals in July.
There were already 2463 ambulance ramping hours in the first 11 days of August – placing the month on track to again come close to 7000 total hours.