Illawarra Shoalhaven's hospital system under pressure: BHI report

Busy quarter: A new report on hospital performance shows Wollongong Hospital's emergency department struggled to cope with an influx of patient presentations during winter due to a horror flu season. Picture: Robert Peet
Busy quarter: A new report on hospital performance shows Wollongong Hospital's emergency department struggled to cope with an influx of patient presentations during winter due to a horror flu season. Picture: Robert Peet

Some patients faced waits of more than 12 hours at Wollongong Hospital’s emergency department over winter, as a horror flu season led to a spike in presentations.

More than 17,500 people presented at the ED from July to September – almost 2000 more than during the same period last year – according to a new report.

It caused a blow-out in waiting times – with only just over half the patients (56.2 per cent) able to leave Wollongong’s ED within the four-hour state benchmark.

Meantime the number of patients undergoing elective surgery at the hospital fell by 13 per cent, compared to the same period in 2016. 

All up 1581 procedures were performed, leaving more than 2250 patients still awaiting operations at the end of September.

It was a similar situation across the region, with more than 40,000 presentations at EDs at hospitals throughout the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District in the quarter – an eight per cent increase on the same time last year.

The situation was mirrored across the state according to the Bureau of Health Information's (BHI) latest Hospital Quarterly Report, released publicly today.

The report revealed that more than 720,000 patients presented to a NSW public hospital ED – the highest number ever recorded by BHI and 9.4 per cent higher than the same quarter last year.

Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord said the independent data showed that the NSW health and hospital system was at breaking point. 

With more than 100,000 confirmed flu cases as at November 31 across the state – and 4876 cases in the ISLHD alone – he said it was time for the state government to ‘’overhaul’’ its approach for the 2018 flu season.

‘’The Illawarra Shoalhaven was smashed by the flu season and it impacted on the state’s emergency departments, causing lengthy waits and delays in treatment,’’ he said.

Mr Secord said he supported the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ call for the government to fund a stronger vaccine for 2018 and more free flu vaccines for the community.

ISLHD executive director clinical operations Margaret Martin said the district had prepared for the flu season by putting in place winter bed strategies in hospitals, and had continually reviewed demand for services to ensure that resources were appropriately allocated.

‘’Despite the higher than average presentations, our staff did an amazing job managing access and flow within the ED and worked closely with ambulance colleagues to ensure that patients were safe, and transferred to the care of the ED in a timely manner,’’ she said.

‘’Our EDs remain focused on improving the delivery and timeliness of emergency department care.’’

Ms Martin said initiatives included the installation of Emergency Access View dashboards, which provided staff with real-time patient presentation data.

She said the district also continued to review and implement local strategies at hospitals to improve surgery waiting times.

From July to September, 3196 elective surgery procedures were performed across the district, with 99.9 per cent of urgent surgeries performed on time.