Overcrowded ER still a problem

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - Page 3

The Consumers’ Foundation yesterday faulted hospitals for receiving increasing payments from the government while reducing the number of beds, and at health authorities for failing to deal with the problem of overcrowded emergency departments.

Citing a report by the Chinese-language Apple Daily, the foundation told a press conference that based on the data recently released by the National Health Insurance (NHI) Administration, 17.41 percent of National Taiwan University Hospital’s emergency room (ER) stays lasted longer than two days, making the hospital’s ER the most crowded in the nation.

The Control Yuan had already issued a corrective measure in 2010, reproving medical centers that had a 21 percent rate for ER stays of over two days, according to the agency’s statement.

With this year’s reported percentages of two-day ER stays at the medical centers ranging from 3.64 percent to 17.41 percent, the improvement over the past three years has been slight, the foundation said.

The consumer protection group said the overcrowding problem remains unsolved despite a NT$19.8 billion (US$670 million) increase in payments made to hospitals as provided in this year’s NHI budget, including NT$5 billion allocated for emergency and acute care, and NT$2.5 billion for nursing staff.

NHI data also show that from April to June, 394 beds have been closed by medical centers across the country, the foundation said, adding that the number would rise to a total of 1,583 closed beds if hospitals at all levels were included in the calculations.

“Since the budget has been distributed, the NHI Administration has the duty to supervise its use and urge hospitals to provide the necessary medical services,” foundation board member Hsieh Tien-jen (謝天仁) said.

However, the Ministry of Health and Welfare questioned the foundation’s figures, saying that 394 closed beds in 19 medical centers would translate into 20.7 closed beds per center. And with an average of 1,210 emergency beds in each medical center and an 80 percent occupancy rate, the bed-closing rate is about 1.7 percent, “which is probably not the main cause of overcrowded ERs,” the ministry said in a press release.

Department of Medical Affairs head Lee Wei-chiang (李偉強) put the blame on people’s habit of visiting medical centers instead of smaller hospitals or clinics.

Lee said it would be better for people to visit smaller hospitals or clinics “if it more of a general illness that needs to be dealt with.”