NSW hospitals ‘swamped’ with emergency department patients

Date: Mar 29, 2016

Hospitals in NSW saw the highest number of patients on record in their emergency departments over the October to December 2015 quarter, new figures have revealed.

The state’s Bureau of Health Information (BHI) found that nearly 665,000 people visited emergency rooms during the three-month period, which is a rise of 2 per cent when compared with the same time last year.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), the pressure on the state’s health system means it now takes nine days longer to receive non-urgent surgeries than it did in October to December 2014.

Previous efforts to ensure patients leave the emergency department within four hours of arriving are also in jeopardy, as a number of hospitals report that half of the people coming through their doors aren’t treated in time.

Busy hospitals put additional strain on doctors and nurses, which could have a negative impact on patient care. In worst-case scenarios, mistakes may be made that lead to medical negligence claims.

BHI Chief Executive Jean-Frederic Levesque said: “NSW emergency departments continue to see more patients and more urgent cases … This quarter, half of patients waited 32 weeks for non-urgent surgery.”

Lack of beds

The worst performing organisation in NSW over the quarter was Nepean Hospital. Almost one-fifth of the facility’s patients must wait longer than a year for elective surgery, and only 53 per cent of individuals are treated within four hours.

Patrick Cregan, a retired surgeon and former chair of the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, admitted that a lack of beds was causing many of the hospital’s problems.

He said the emergency department admitted 66,700 patients over the last financial year, despite only being designed to handle a maximum of 50,000. The admittance figure is also rising 5.4 per cent each year, with overseas migration and an ageing population placing increasing strain on services.

“When you get that sort of load coming through the emergency department, those patients get queued up and they essentially get first crack at the beds and therefore there’s no physical beds to put other patients into,” he told the SMH.

However, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner downplayed the significance of the new data, arguing that severe influenza cases over the winter had skewed the figures.

The BHI statistics showed the time spent on average in NSW emergency departments climbed three minutes to two hours and 41 minutes. Approximately three-quarters of people are currently treated within four hours of admittance.

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