South Coast ambos and hospitals struggling as flu peaks

There’s been a ‘’staggering’’ increase in ambulances caught up in bed block at the region’s emergency departments in the past month according to South Coast paramedic Glenn Congram.

One of the worst flu seasons on record, plus a gastro outbreak, has seen paramedics and hospital staff struggle to meet the demand.

It’s prompted Mr Congram – the NSW assistant secretary for the Australian Paramedics Association – to ask patients to consider whether their ‘’urgency is an emergency’’.

Read more: Spike in gastro prompts warning from NSW Health

‘’Ambulances and paramedics have been tied up in bed block at Wollongong, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven for considerably longer over the past four weeks,’’ he said.

‘’In just one example, on one evening last week every single South Coast car was in bed block at Shoalhaven Hospital.

‘’This means we are relying on on-call crews, who have already worked a full shift that day, which in turn is leading to staff fatigue.

‘’We’re urging the community to only ring for an ambulance in the case of emergency – we’re still getting calls for headaches and other cases which could easily be handled by a GP.’’

Read more: Record number of flu cases test NSW hospitals

Mr Congram said people were still under the belief that they would get treated quicker if they arrived at the ED by ambulance: ‘’You are triaged by ED staff exactly the same whether you’ve chosen to go by ambulance or in your own car.’’

There were 563 confirmed cases of influenza in the Illawarra Shoalhaven in July – four times the number recorded in July 2016.

Across the state there were 14,032 flu cases last month – compared to 4431 the previous July.  

NSW Health figures confirm that in the last week of July there was a marked increase in ED presentations across the state for pneumonia and influenza-like illness, with 526 hospital admissions.

However Director Communicable Diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said NSW Health was managing the surge in activity.

‘’We are seeing high levels of both influenza A and B strains circulating in the community, which places vulnerable people at high risk of catching the influenza and developing severe complications,’’ she said.

‘’There have also been 150 outbreaks reported in aged care facilities since the start of the year.’’

For more information see the NSW Health influenza website at  www.health.nsw.gov.au/Flu