BENDIGO Health is one of many Victorian hospitals experiencing a sharp rise in emergency department presentations, the health department says.
It comes as Bendigo Health urged non-urgent cases to go elsewhere at the weekend after more than 170 people presented to the hospital's emergency department on both Saturday and Sunday.
A Victorian Department of Health spokesperson said hospitals were getting busier year-on-year.
"The latest data shows hospitals are busy places," the spokesperson said. "But Bendigo Health has assured us this weekend was a bit unusual for a range of factors."
The spokesperson said the department would continue to assess public hospitals each year as part of the budget cycle.
Performance data from the Victorian Department of Health showed there were 14,595 emergency department presentations at Bendigo Health between April and June this year.
That was up from 13,031 in the same period in 2018.
Emergency department presentations across the state have also risen in the past year, with the performance data showing an increase of more than 32,000 people in that same quarter.
"We're seeing it Australia wide," Bendigo Health emergency department acting director Dr Simon Smith said.
"Bendigo isn't the only place. Certainly, there's a sicker population, an older population, and patients need to present to emergency departments at times of stress."
Dr Smith said he expected the emergency department to remain busy.
"The key message is the staff work above and beyond," Dr Smith said.
"We do have a triage system so patients that require urgent medical care receive it as quickly as we can."
Victoria's chief health officer last week warned of the increased risk of thunderstorm asthma. Dr Smith said despite the issues at the weekend, the hospital was equipped to handle such a situation.
"We always have to be ready for any disaster response, as we would call it," he said. "We have codes for the hospital that would require extra resources and we have ways to escalate to that.
"We would feel we were ready if that was to eventuate again."
New way to communicate
Bendigo Health will continue to use social media to advise patients when the emergency department is extremely busy.
The hospital sent out an alert to the public via Facebook on Saturday, after more than 170 people required care in the emergency department. The post asked those whose conditions were not urgent to consider visiting a GP or pharmacist rather than the hospital.
Emergency department acting director Dr Simon Smith said the new method proved to be a successful communication tool.
"We find that patients tend to like knowing how busy the hospital is," Dr Smith said.
"If we can give them advanced warning that we are busy at a particular time, we - as well as other hospitals - have found people have been receptive to that idea."
Dr Smith said the hospital would also look at alternative measures to alert the public.
"We're certainly looking at other ways we can spread that message," Dr Smith said.
"When people enter the emergency department we're looking to display it to them so they understand that we're doing everything we can at that particular time under increased activity."
Dr Smith said the public appreciated the new measures.
"The more that they know, the more that empowers them to seek the right help whether that be here with us or with their local doctor," Dr Smith said.
While the message on Saturday urged patients to consider what type of care they need, Dr Smith said the hospital did not want to deter people who genuinely needed urgent care.
"The message we want to get across is that when people are unwell and think they have an urgent medical problem, they should feel safe and happy to come to the hospital," he said.
"If they feel they have a medical issue that won't require emergency medical treatment, it would be good for the system - as well as for themselves - to go to their local doctors."
Dr Smith said while the new system provided additional information, it should not take away basic judgement.
"If they are unsure about if they needed to come to hospital or not, checking our Facebook may be one way they could try and decide," Dr Smith said.
"But if someone feels they have an urgent medical problem and they need to come to hospital, they should come to hospital."
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