The South Australian government will consider closing some hospital emergency departments despite warnings chronic overcrowding could cause patient deaths.

South Australia has flagged the closure of some emergency departments as the government looks to overhaul its lagging health system.

The government has come under fire over emergency department overcrowding, with damning reports from medical officers warning of ambulance ramping and “extreme and immediate” safety risks at hospitals.

But national data reveals SA has a higher number of public hospital beds, GPs and nurses than any other state, while Adelaide has more emergency departments per capita than most cities its size.

Health Minister Jack Snelling says this proves the need to deliver more efficient treatment and improve the flow of patients, rather than simply opening more beds.

Releasing the Transforming Health discussion paper on Friday, he said the government would consider replacing some EDs with a service somewhere between a general practice and full emergency care.

“What the data shows is we’re putting in this extra investment, but we’re not seeing commensurate better outcomes,” he told reporters.

“There’s one emergency department … where only 7 per cent of the people who present at that emergency department are actually admitted to hospital.

“We need to have a look at those things.”

Mr Snelling said he would look at centralising specialist services, such as stroke units, to ensure patients received more timely treatment and spent less time in hospital.

The government will also consider creating a specialised elective surgery site with a focus on same-day operations to ease demand for beds.

Medical officers at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the city’s largest, warned in September that overcrowding would contribute to patient deaths if left unchecked.

In a report by the South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association, clinicians said mental health patients were left in “appalling” conditions for days without appropriate treatment.

Television rooms and a morgue viewing area were being used as treatment areas, and staff were working 16-hour shifts “to help the dysfunctional environment”, the report said.

Health spending accounts for almost a third of South Australia’s budget, and is on track to reach 50 per cent over the next 15 years at present growth rates.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said the government’s discussion paper offered no practical solutions on how to address overcrowding.


SA: 3.0

NT: 2.8

NSW: 2.8

ACT: 2.6

QLD: 2.5

VIC: 2.4

TAS: 2.3

WA: 2.3

Source: AIHW Australian Hospital Statistics 2012-13