Annabel Bowles

Tropic Now journalist

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Cairns Hospital declares first Code Yellow emergency in 18 months

Cairns Hospital has declared its first Code Yellow emergency in over 18 months after an “influx” of COVID-19 patients from PNG and local trauma cases.

The hospital’s Emergency Department had a huge spike in patient presentations over the weekend followed by 263 presentations yesterday, just 23 less than its previous record set last month.

The last time the hospital declared a Code Yellow emergency was in August 2019, in which staff wrote directly to the Queensland Health Minister pleading for immediate help in dealing with an unmanageable number of patients.

The region’s Executive Director of Medical Services, Dr Don Mackie, said the Code Yellow comes as the hospital treats six COVID-19 patients from PNG, alongside sustained high numbers of ED presentations and an increase in trauma admissions. 

“There is an escalating outbreak of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea, which has resulted in several cases being detected in Cairns in hotel quarantine,” Dr Mackie said.

“Cairns Hospital currently has six patients who have travelled from PNG – all with COVID-19 – being treated in isolation.  

“All patients were detected with the virus in hotel quarantine, and transferred to the hospital as per usual processes, to prevent any risk of community infection.”

Since the start of March, Cairns Hospital ED presentations are up more than 9 per cent from the same period last year, with a total 2272 presentations.

The daily average presentations to the department is 252 – the highest daily average for any month.

Dr Mackie said the events of the past couple of weeks have placed extraordinary pressure on health service staff.

“Declaring a Code Yellow enables us to activate staff to assist with the load and support the Emergency Department, and the Queensland Ambulance Service,” he said. 

“To assist with patient flow across Cairns Hospital, some non-urgent elective surgery has been postponed.

“Patients with appointments will be contacted individually to have their surgery rescheduled.”

He said the hospital would be able to cope with the increased demand in the short term but asked residents to be mindful of the pressure on local health services.

“Our trauma presentations have been increasing in recent months, including a spike just this week in road crashes,” he said.

“Trauma surgery must take priority and, as a result, elective surgeries and outpatient appointments are sometimes postponed. 

“But we are asking Far North Queenslanders to please keep our EDs for emergencies only. 

“We are still seeing far too many people presenting with non-urgent conditions such as needing surgical dressings and sutures. 

“These are relatively simple procedures that can be performed by your local GP.”

Planning is underway to improve Cairns Hospital’s infrastructure with a $26.4 million investment to expand the Emergency Department.