Using 'reverse triage' to create hospital surge capacity: Royal Darwin Hospital's response to the Ashmore Reef disaster

Peter Satterthwaite, Carol Atkinson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    36 Citations (Scopus)


    This report analyses the impact of reverse triage, as described by Kelen, to rapidly assess the need for continuing inpatient care and to expedite patient discharge to create surge capacity for disaster victims. The Royal Darwin Hospital was asked to take up to 30 casualties suffering from blast injuries from a boat carrying asylum seekers that had exploded 840 km west of Darwin. The hospital was full, with a backlog of cases awaiting admission in the emergency department. The Disaster Response Team convened at 10:00 to develop the surge capacity to admit up to 30 casualties. By 14:00, 56 beds (16% of capacity) were predicted to be available by 18:00. The special circumstances of a disaster enabled staff to suspend their usual activities and place a priority on triaging inpatients' suitability for discharge. The External Disaster Plan was activated and response protocols were followed. Normal elective activity was suspended. Multidisciplinary teams immediately assessed patients and completed the necessary clinical and administrative requirements to discharge them quickly. As per the Plan there was increased use of community care options: respite nursing home beds and community nursing services. Through a combination of cancellation of all planned admissions, discharging 19 patients at least 1 day earlier than planned and discharging all patients earlier in the day surge capacity was made available in Royal Darwin Hospital to accommodate blast victims. Notably, reverse triage resulted in no increase in clinical risk with only one patient who was discharged early returning for further treatment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)160-162
    Number of pages3
    JournalEmergency Medicine Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


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