This is the issue with hospital bed shortages.
This is the issue with hospital bed shortages.

My baby’s skull was fractured. But we were forced to wait

FOUR-and-a-half hours sitting in a plastic chair with my nine-month-old son in my arms who, we later discovered, had a fractured skull.

Four-and-a-half hours surrounded by anxious parents with children of all ages - all needing medical attention. Some with bleeding knees, others with arms in slings and one mother across from me, who sat for hours, tears running down her face as she cradled a red-cheeked, limp baby.

On this Monday night in November, 2017, bed shortages and under-resourced staff resulted in what can only be described as hell.

Bathing my son earlier that evening I noticed he'd developed a swollen ridge along the side of his head that was slightly blue and boggy to touch. I realised this was from his fall down a small staircase as he crawled around our living room earlier that day.

He didn't seem injured at the time, but hours later it was clear he was not OK.

I am not one to rush to hospital. I take my children to the same GP I have seen since I was a child. If his practice is closed, I use the National Home Doctor Service.

Expanding populations and shortages of emergency beds are threatening our quality of healthcare.
Expanding populations and shortages of emergency beds are threatening our quality of healthcare.

But that night, call it mother's intuition, I didn't have time to wait for a call-out doctor. But on arrival at hospital, wait we did.

We checked in just before 6pm. By 8.30pm my neighbour, who drove us and offered to stay, started suggesting we go to another hospital.

Frazzled nurses wove trolleys through the packed waiting room, triaging children as they sat on their parent's laps.

Finally, at 10.30pm, a doctor on duty looked at my son, before suggesting that because he hadn't vomited, he was probably fine and it was up to me but they were short on beds and maybe it would be best to take him home and bring him back if he got worse, but it was up to me, of course.

"I'm not leaving until you give him a scan," I replied.

As soon as they realised I was articulate and assertive, things changed. He had a scan, which showed a fracture and a haematoma and by 2am we were found a bed in the overnight ward.

And this is the issue with hospital bed shortages.

It’s a disconcerting state of affairs when assertiveness gets you better care. Picture: Getty Images
It’s a disconcerting state of affairs when assertiveness gets you better care. Picture: Getty Images

People who are sick, or are accompanying someone sick, might not have the confidence or knowledge to assertively stand up for medical treatment.

These are the people who are sent home because there are not enough beds, whose surgery is cancelled yet again. And these are the people who have to turn around in the dead of night and rush back to hospital as things have taken a turn for the worse.

The other fallout from bed shortages is for hospital staff. These are educated, experienced professionals who are just trying to do their jobs.

But when you cram an emergency waiting room with stressed parents and leave them there for hours, anxiety builds and tempers explode.

We watched one father rage at nurses, screaming swear words.

His daughter needed her cannula removed so they could drive hours home and return again the next day to continue her chemo.

He has every right to be upset. But no one should be treated like this.

Hospital bed shortages need to be addressed from the top down. You can blame the log jam on elderly 'bed blockers' or private health insurance abandoners, but this is a systemic issue that hurts us all - hospital staff and patients.

It's not brain surgery, it's simply giving a damn about the sick and the staff who tend to them.