BENDIGO Health is struggling to meet the demand for medical care, as the busy winter period peaks and numbers continue to rise.
There has been a 10 per cent increase in patient numbers at the hospital over the past 12 months, double the normal four to five percent rise.
The organisation has asked for patience from the community, for people to consider visiting a GP if possible, and for patients' family and friends to pick them up when they are ready to be discharged.
Clinical Director of Acute Ambulatory and Critical Care Diana Badcock said lots of vulnerable people became unwell during the winter leading to the demand, also caused by flu, coughs and colds.
She said Bendigo Health was at capacity, and in escalation in every department, pulling resources at the maximum possible.
"Staff who are often doing education and training and working in a non clinical capacity are doing additional things in the clinical arena to try and move people through the organisation as rapidly as possible," she said.
"Because we are at capacity everywhere and we have done everything that we feel we should be doing in escalation, and now we're asking for help.
"The risk is that people who are waiting too long to get assessed get sicker than they need to be, so people suffer because we can't get to them."
READ MORE: Flu cases continue to rise
Dr Badcock said demand for care was high during winter every year, but had increased more this year than previously.
She said the organisation saw four to five per cent more patients each year, but there had been a 10 per cent increase in the past year.
The way people viewed health services, and viewed the hospital, needed to change, as demand for care increased across the developed world, Dr Badcock said.
"People have to think differently about what it is to come to the emergency department, what it is to be acutely unwell and what it is to be a public hospital," Dr Badcock said.
"Health across everywhere in the developed world has changed, the demand is going up and up.
"These are conversations that we have to have as a community. This isn't a government solution, this is a community that actually has the answers to these problems: what is it we expect of our emergency department, what is it we expect of our hospital, what do we expect of each other?"
Bendigo Health asked for patience from the community, warning of longer wait times while the demand increases.
Dr Badcock urged community members to pick up family or friends as soon as they could, to reduce flow-on delays to bed availability.
She urged people to consider other care options than presenting to emergency, but encouraged those who were sick enough to need emergency care to still come to the department.
People who really needed emergency care were typically those put off by messaging suggesting the public reconsider their need to present to hospital, she said.
"Your typical elderly county person doesn't like to be a nuisance, and actually they're the people who wait too long," Dr Badcock said.
"If you are somebody who uses the emergency department as your primary care provider, that needs to stop.
"But if you feel unwell and you need to access care, and you don't have any other means then the emergency department is the correct place to be."
Dr Badcock said the flu season was having an effect, but that increased demand was common in winter.
The hospital has seen about 10 times as many cases of flu than normal this year.
A spokesperson for Acting Minister for Health Luke Donnellan said the winter demand was proving higher than usual.
"We're grateful to the hard-working nurses and doctors for their dedication in treating Bendigo patients," the spokesperson said.
"We support Bendigo Health's position that while the emergency department is always there when patients need it, there are occasions when a visit to the GP is more appropriate.
"We're providing Bendigo Health with record funding so that nurses and doctors can do what they do best."
Bendigo Health has taken the unusual step of issuing a warning that the hospital is under pressure, and sickest patients will be seen first.
The organisation has taken to social media to warn of long waits in its emergency department, because of high demand across its service.
The organisation warned patients of the wait-times on Wednesday morning in posts on Facebook and Twitter.
The most seriously ill and sickest patients would always be seen first, Bendigo Health said.
Bendigo Health said it would endeavour to attend to people as soon as possible, but encouraged people to visit their GP if possible.
The hospital will provide further details later today, and we will update this story with further information.
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