Relatives of an 87-year-old man have spoken of their distress after he waited for nine hours in a plastic chair in the Launceston General Hospital emergency waiting room while suffering pneumonia.
The Riverside man's granddaughter, Jessie Lincoln, said they were concerned at the conditions in the LGH ED for patients, nurses and other staff, and described the waiting time as "completely inappropriate" and a reflection of bed block.
The man's GP sent him to the ED about 3pm last Tuesday, finding he was in need of acute care suffering low blood pressure, high temperature and early signs of delirium, with a pre-existing heart condition.
His blood pressure was taken and he was given an intravenous drip for hydration. Over the next nine hours a relative wrapped jackets and blankets over him as he suffered chills, along with his high temperature.
At midnight, he was placed on a gurney and taken into the next emergency waiting area where he remained until 9pm Wednesday before he was admitted to a bed on a ward - 30 hours after his arrival.
The man - who did not want to be named - was then taken into isolation while doctors attempted to determine his diagnosis, before he was moved to an acute medical unit where he remained on Monday.
Doctors determined he was suffering pneumonia.
Ms Lincoln said the initial wait was upsetting as her grandfather was in a high level of discomfort.
"It's extremely distressing when you're talking about your 87-year-old grandfather who is usually of extremely sharp mind, fit and healthy, and you're crammed up like a sardine watching him basically deteriorate in front of your eyes," she said.
"Our family understands that we are just one of many in that kind of situation at the LGH.
"Because there were no beds available on a ward, he had to stay in emergency. That meant he was taking up a bed in ED that someone else could have used."
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His wait occurred at a time when most of the seats in the ED were full. Ms Lincoln said the environment was not appropriate for nurses or patients.
"Even though the nurses are absolutely stretched and working under ridiculous and overwhelming conditions, they are just amazing," she said.
A Tasmanian Health Services spokesperson said the hospital followed triage protocols.
"Internationally-consistent triage protocols are used in all emergency departments to ensure that patients who are in the most critical need of medical intervention, including potentially life-saving treatment, are prioritised by our dedicated health professionals," the spokesperson said.
"Patients waiting in emergency departments are provided with care, and, while the THS understands that waiting for treatment can be frustrating, we are doing everything to ensure that patients receive the medical treatment they require."
Four-hour wait benchmark falls below 50 per cent
Just under half of the patients who present to the LGH ED depart within four hours according to the latest data.
The "four hour rule" is considered a standard benchmark for the operations of an emergency department.
In October, November and December last year, 49 per cent of patients in the LGH ED departed within this timeframe. The hospital started the year at 54 per cent, and returned to that level in June after the initial COVID period before declining again.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has an application with the Tasmanian Industrial Commission for 21.43 more full-time equivalent staff for the LGH ED to address workload issues.
The union claims there is a nursing workforce shortage of 400 positions to meet demand across Tasmania, and has urged the government to recruit more nurses and midwives as part of a "three-point plan", agreed to by Labor and the Greens.
Last week, LGH operating room suite nurse Kylie Stubbs - also an ANMF representative - said staff were constantly "fearful" of the implications of staff shortages on patients and nurses.
"All nurses working in all departments are feeling just overwhelmed with the current situation," she said.
Health minister: 'clearly there is more to do' to fix LGH woes
The government has promised to recruit 160 nurses, 14 doctors and 30 allied health staff, but it fell beneath expectations from the ANMF.
Health Minister Sarah Courtney said the government had "increased the number of nurse graduates", had approved other business cases brought by the ANMF and promised to "work productively" with the union.
She acknowledged that the LGH ED could be improved.
"Clearly, there is more to do," Ms Courtney said.
"Which is why we're investing significant additional funding both in beds and staffing, and it's also why we're consulting on our healthcare future so we can work together with all stakeholders to ensure that we've got better flow through our hospitals, and take pressure off our EDs."
An airlock upgrade to the LGH ED and a refurbishment of Ward 3D were included in the next stages of the hospital's master plan, which the government has promised to carry out as a way of increasing access to beds.
Labor leader Rebecca White said the government should be acting immediately to harness Tasmania's existing graduate nursing workforce to address shortages.
"Under a Labor Government, they would be offered permanent positions from day one so that we could fill the vacancies that we have, and that would also provide an incentive for people to come to Tasmania because they'll know they get a job here," she said.