NSW hospitals are falling short of proposed national standards, which will require facilities to treat nine in 10 patients admitted to the emergency ward within four hours.
Figures published by the Saturday Telegraph on December 13 show just 13 out of the state’s 77 hospitals will meet the federal government’s 90 per cent target.
The new standards will be introduced on January 1, with only Sydney Eye Hospital and Sydney Hospital set to reach the expected level within the city.
The remaining 11 hospitals are all small facilities located in rural areas, data from the Bureau of Health Information (BHI) showed, where there is less demand for emergency services.
Increased treatment times can lead to medical negligence claims, particularly if long delays result in serious complications or deaths. Earlier this month, two men died in separate incidents after paramedics took too long to arrive on the scene.
According to an Auditor-General report, the health ministry has acknowledged hospitals will struggle to hit the 90 per cent target.
The department said: “This is a very ambitious target, given increasing emergency department demand.”
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the target was part of a 2011 agreement between states, territories and the Australian government, but didn’t confirm whether or not she thought the goal was realistic.
“A key feature of the deal was reward payments for achievement,” she explained.
‘Virtual’ beds criticism
The NSW health system has already come in for criticism this month, after it was alleged hospital bed counts often include various forms of ‘virtual’ bed.
In fact, the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that as many as 10 per cent of beds can be defined in this way, with the category including people being treated at home and patients moving between hospitals.
People staying with relatives and disability patients in social day schemes are also incorporated in the figures.
NSW opposition health spokesman Walt Second argued that counting these virtual beds is misleading, claiming it is a “glorified paper exercise”.
“When Mrs Skinner says there are record numbers of hospital beds, she’s giving the wrong impression that they are genuine hospital beds,” he stated.
“It is no wonder the health system is under pressure and people are waiting in emergency departments for hospital beds.”
NSW Australian Medical Association President Saxon Smith claimed that regardless of how many beds had supposedly been created under the Coalition’s rule, there are still not enough for requirements.