A blazing row is on over conditions obtaining in public hospitals in Queensland, Australia. While doctors say it is a matter of serious concern, the state government refutes the charges.
The Australian Medical Association of Queensland (AMAQ) has said emergency rooms have reached "crisis point."
Sylvia Andrew-Starkey, chairwoman of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Queensland, on Thursday called for a two-week freeze on elective surgery to free at least 200 beds, saying there was evidence that elderly patients left waiting in emergency ward corridors on trolleys might have fallen off and died, or suffered serious complications.
But Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson on Friday hotly denied there was any such crisis plaguing public health and regretted that doctors should have chosen to go public with such claims, spreading unnecessary alarm.
He maintained one patient had suffered a fall from a bed, another in a shower, and another died six months after release from hospital, but none of the patients were put at risk in an emergency room
Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said Robertson was using parliament and the media to "bully" Dr Andrew-Starkey, and called on the premier to rein him in.
"This crisis would not have happened if the Beattie-Bligh government had listened to frontline clinical staff," McArdle said.
"It's time this minister stopped speaking and started listening.
"Seriously sick and injured people do not need their hardworking doctors and nurses to be distracted by a tirade from an incompetent minister."
But Robertson denied he was trying to silence doctors.
"They have every right to make public comment, however, I think there's a responsibility on everybody ... that they provide accurate advice," he said.
He also denied reports the government had banned the word "crisis" in favour of "under pressure" when talking about the health system.
"That's silly, but the word crisis must certainly be one of the most overused words in the political vocabulary," he said.
"What I believe is a crisis is when the system is going backwards, when you have beds closing, medical staff resigning, when you fail to keep pace with the numbers coming through the door, you're in free-fall.
"What we have in Queensland Health is in fact the opposite."
AMAQ president Dr Chris Davis disagreed.
"It's certainly more than pressure," Dr Davis said, AAP reprots.
"There is pressure when the system is working to capacity.
"When it has gone beyond capacity in my opinion that is a significant issue. It is dysfunctional, it is a crisis."
Robertson has been under fire all week, with news a small central Queensland hospital will be downgraded, suggestions of cutbacks to the Flying Specialist Service, and emergency rooms around the state on bypass.
Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid on Friday met with emergency staff at the Royal Brisbane Hospital about ways to open more beds and alert hospitals where beds were available.