The impact of a COVID-19-linked lockdown at an Adelaide emergency department has highlighted the extreme vulnerability of the state’s hospital and healthcare system, says the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM; the College).

Since the detection of a positive COVID-19 case at the Modbury Hospital Emergency Department on Monday, emergency clinicians at other hospitals across Adelaide’s already-struggling healthcare system have highlighted difficulties as they continue striving to provide the highest-possible standard of emergency care amid the removal of significant capacity from the system; a system that had no spare capacity.

“This is a very trying and stressful time for the South Australian community as well as emergency clinicians at the frontline,” said ACEM President Dr John Bonning.

“Despite this, the community should feel reassured that emergency clinicians will continue doing everything in their power to ensure emergency care needs are as best met as possible.

“However, despite the best efforts of frontline staff, South Australia’s latest COVID-19 cases and the associated impacts on hospital emergency departments, staff and the healthcare system, once again highlight just how vulnerable the state remains.

“South Australia was already facing an acute hospital access crisis, with dangerous emergency department bottlenecks – as a result of systemic, staffing and capacity issues creating delays in admitting patients from EDs to inpatient beds – leading to extreme ED crowding, ambulance ramping and concerns for patient safety and staff wellbeing.

“Frustratingly, staff on the ground have been calling for genuine, whole-of-system solutions to this worsening situation for many years, with the College also highlighting the major risks still posed by potential COVID-19 outbreaks last November.

“The situation was dire before this and is now critical. It is well past time for the government to genuinely engage and come to the table with immediate and long-term solutions and plans, that acknowledge and address the systemic causes of the dangerous access block being experienced in hospitals.

“In addition to sustainably-staffed additional inpatient bed capacity, we urgently need to see a focus on implementing a seven-day hospital service model, with improved out-of-office hours access to hospital services including clinics, advanced diagnostics, as well as senior decision makers in inpatient units.

“We must also see a much stronger focus on workforce sustainability, as the current situation continues to take a heavy toll on increasingly exasperated and exhausted frontline staff.”

ACEM South Australia Faculty Deputy Chair Dr Michael Edmonds said the state’s emergency clinicians are determined to continue providing the highest-possible standard of care to the community through the latest COVID-19 threat, and beyond.

“To do this, however, we need much greater buy-in and support from the government, to keep the community and emergency clinicians safe, now and into the future.
“As always, we want to contribute constructively to solutions, but ultimately it is the government with the power to enact the meaningful change that frontline staff and the South Australian community need and deserve.”


ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards.

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