Free water for commuters in heatwave hit as health system struggles with demand

Monday 20 February, 2023

The Opposition is calling on the Malinauskas Labor Government to provide free water to commuters at major public transport stations this week in a bid to help combat scorching temperatures – and as a preventive measure to keep people out of overcrowded hospitals and ramped ambulances.

The Bureau of Meteorology is warning South Australians could be caught off guard by the first significant heatwave since 2019.

The Opposition is concerned for the safety of South Australians – especially the elderly – who may use buses, trains and trams to visit cool public places in order to avoid running expensive air-conditioners during the cost-of-living crisis.

Another concern centralises around how our struggling health system will cope during the heatwave, following a night of overcrowding, unacceptable wait times and worst nine months of ramping on record.

New overnight data shows nine people have been waiting more than 24 hours for a bed, while 14 more have been forced to wait more than 12 hours.

This morning, Modbury Hospital and Lyell McEwin Hospital had emergency department wait times over eight hours.

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Vincent Tarzia, said the free water initiative has worked well previously during heatwaves interstate.

“South Australians are struggling through a cost-of-living crisis and this concerning heatwave will force people to choose between their health or bank account,” Mr Tarzia said.

“Energy prices have skyrocketed, and we expect many South Australians – especially the elderly – will leave the house and use public transport in search of free cooling at shopping centres and other places.

“Free water is a must to protect our community who may be underprepared considering this is South Australia’s first major heatwave since 2019. That’s why we’re calling on Peter Malinauskas to act now before it’s too late.”

Shadow Minister for Health Ashton Hurn said the health system – on the back of record ramping under Peter Malinauskas – is already under extraordinary pressure without the added risk of a heatwave.

“We know that as the temperature rises, so too does the pressure on our patients, frontline health workers and the entire health system,” Mrs Hurn said.

“Our patients and staff are already feeling the heat with emergency department wait times blowing out past eight hours – and we are worried that pressure will continue to climb.

“This is a proactive measure to not only keep the community cool and safe, but also to ease pressure on the health system.”