Lack of beds, doctors causing long waiting times at Tallinn ERs

East Tallinn Central Hospital (ITKH) ER.
East Tallinn Central Hospital (ITKH) ER. Source: Raigo Pajula/ITK

A lack of beds and staff shortages are causing longer than usual waits at Tallinn's hospital emergency rooms this week.

Hospital rules oblige patients to be transferred from ambulances when they arrive at hospitals in 30 minutes and 15 minutes in a critical emergency.

But waiting times are currently stretching to as much as two hours in the capital. Patients are left waiting in vehicles outside the hospital.

The North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) is almost at 100 percent capacity, Vassili Novak, head of the emergency department, told Monday's "Aktuaalne kaamera".

He said problems have arisen because there are no beds in other wards to transfer ER patients.

East Tallinn Central Hospital ER department. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

"Recently, the population in the area has grown, but there hasn't exactly been an increase in hospital places," said Novak.

A second reason is that older patients must often wait for several hours to be picked up by their relatives, said Kristiina Mäemets, acting head of East Tallinn Central Hospital's ER.

"It is difficult to offer a very quick solution. Perhaps the quickest way is for a patient with a minor concern to see a family doctor, and then we can also admit patients who need hospital treatment more quickly," she said.

"When we have several ambulances coming in at the same time, it's also the case that we can't create these places as quickly because examining patients, treating them, stabilizing the more difficult patients in the ER doesn't take minutes, it takes hours," Mäemets added.

Additionally, the situation is complicated by a shortage of emergency medicine doctors. While training places have risen, applications have not. A third of residents also switch specialties.

PERH ambulance. Source: PERH

ER general supervisor at the Tartu University hospital Triinu Keskpaik said the fast pace is one reason for the drop-out rate.

But another is that patients often use the ER when they could go to a family doctor instead. She said, typically, half of the patients who arrive at the ER do not have potentially life-threatening or disabling conditions.

"But that's what we train our residents to do, and their work does not meet expectations," she said.

A second reason is that a lot of time is spent looking for beds.

"In fact, much of the overcrowding in ERs is due to patients not moving from the ER to the ward. The ER is the primary diagnosis and treatment, then they should move on to where they will be examined and treated," Keskpaik told AK.

The Health Board plans to monitor ambulance queues in Tallinn.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

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