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Stay safe at Christmas and avoid a holiday trip to the emergency department

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service is urging people to have a fun and festive Christmas break, but to avoid a trip to one of its emergency departments by keeping safety at the forefront of their minds.

While the Christmas and New Year period is a time to relax for most people, it’s often a different story in our local emergency departments, which typically experience increases in presentations of up to 20% compared to the rest of the year.

WBHHS Chief Executive Debbie Carroll said the higher volumes of people coming through Wide Bay emergency departments were often linked to extra visitors to the region, as well as festive fun going wrong.

“We want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable Christmas and New Year period, but it’s a familiar reality that overindulgence and poor decisions can lead to a trip to the emergency department or the need for other medical assistance,” Ms Carroll said.

“Visitors to our area also don’t have access to their regular doctor, and many local general practices either close or operate on limited hours during the holidays.

“As a result, we often see many more patients in our emergency departments with illnesses and injuries they would normally visit their local GP about.”

Last year, local emergency departments experienced significant increases above the normal daily presentation numbers during the holidays, with Hervey Bay Hospital’s ED experiencing an 18% year-on-year increase, Maryborough a 15% increase, and Bundaberg 12%.

People with non-urgent conditions are encouraged to seek alternative medical advice from a local after-hours GP clinic or home-visit GP service rather than present to the emergency department, should they feel they need medical attention.

“These options can medically assess your condition, provide advice and, when needed, they can assist with a transfer to a local emergency department,” Ms Carroll said.

“There are some GP clinics that remain open and WBHHS also encourages people to use them when possible, instead of the emergency department.

“Queensland Health also provides a 24-hour telephone health service via 13 HEALTH.

“That said, we will never turn anyone away. Anyone who presents with non-urgent conditions may experience longer waits than normal at our hospitals, however, so we ask them to be patient at what can sometimes be a stressful time of year.”

On the other end of the scale, another issue at this time of the year is people with more serious illnesses or injuries delaying coming into the emergency department – meaning they can have more serious symptoms or complications when they do arrive.

“Boxing Day and December 27 are often the busiest days of the year at our emergency departments, while Christmas Day itself tends to be quieter,” Ms Carroll said.

“We understand that, after a year in which many people have spent significant periods away from their families, they will want to prioritise being with loves ones.

“But while people may want to avoid coming in until a day or two after Christmas so they don’t spoil the special day, that’s never advisable when people are seriously ill or injured.

“Delaying coming into the hospital can lead to conditions worsening and longer stays in hospital, so we always encourage people with urgent conditions to come in for treatment immediately.”

Ms Carroll added that while the emergency departments were the “front door” of the hospitals during this period, a range of inpatient, maternity, renal, mental health and many other services also continued to function and ensured local health services kept running.

“It truly takes a whole-of-hospital effort, including our clinical and operational teams, to make sure our services keep operating throughout the holidays,” she said.

“While our community celebrates with loved ones, our dedicated staff give up time with their own families to ensure our hospitals and other facilities keep providing excellent care to our patients.

“So I’d like to thank all our dedicated staff who are working throughout this time – our community couldn’t get by without you.”

Last updated: 23 December 2020