Western Australia has the lowest number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds on a per capita basis in the nation, with just six beds available for every 100,000 people, according to a medical journal report.
The report, published in the Medical Journal of Australia earlier this week, found the total number of available ICU beds in WA fell well below the national average of 8.5 beds per 100,000 people.
New South Wales led the nation with 10.8 beds for every 100,000 people, with South Australia having 9.1 beds and the Australian Capital Territory having 8.6 beds.
The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said it was not surprising Western Australia had the lowest ratio of all states and territories.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me because the McGowan government effectively flatlined operational budget for WA health over the last four years,” Dr Duncan-Smith said.
“We’re also the state with the lowest number of public hospital beds per head of population.
“Over the last four years, there’s been no increase in budget for WA health, and yet demand in the system has been increasing steadily at 3 to 4 per cent per year compounding, so that’s about a 20 per cent increase over four years.”
The report also found the decline in the number of available ICU beds — from an average of 6.7 beds last year — was largely due to staff shortages.
“The operational budget for [the] WA Health [Department] is what pays the wages … the doctors’ wages, the nurses’ wages … and again the operational budget has flatlined for the last four years and this has put the medical system on its knees,” Dr Duncan-Smith said.
Staff shortages ‘a major challenge’: Opposition
Shadow health spokesperson Libby Mettam said the decline in ICU beds per capita raised concerns about the capability of WA’s health system to cope with any increase in demand.
“The report highlights staff shortages as being a major challenge in ensuring beds are available, underlining the concern that this government have dragged their feet on health workers — and in particular, nursing recruitment — which will put lives at risk,” Ms Mettam said.
“We need to see a level of urgency from the government to address these shortages of health workers and to ensure we do have a better number of ICU beds available in our health system.
“We have less beds in ICU now than we did 12 months ago, and the lowest per capita in the nation, which flies in the face of the Minister for Health’s promise to be battle-ready for COVID.”
While the report noted that concerns about equipment shortages — including of ventilators — had been addressed in hospitals, Dr Duncan-Smith warned it may be “too late” for WA’s health system to tackle a potential outbreak.
“All we can do really at this stage is try to modify what our response will be and certainly that’s undoubtedly why we are keeping the borders up because our medical system is going to struggle to cope with a true delta outbreak,” he said.
“The WA health system is currently struggling to even do business as usual.
“What will happen if there is a true COVID outbreak is business as usual will cease, there will be no elective surgery at all and all available resources will be put into trying to deal with the COVID outbreak.”
In a statement, Health Minister Roger Cook said WA had an “outstanding” record of managing COVID-19.
“Our health system has been regularly tested and challenged by positive cases,” Mr Cook said.
“Every time, they have met this challenge to keep WA safe.
“WA has a well-defined outbreak plan, including more than 300 ICU beds.
“In addition, we are investing record amounts of funding into our hospital system to continually build capacity.”
WA recorded one new COVID-19 case overnight, bringing the state’s total to 1,112.Internet Explorer Channel Network