Wollongong Hospital bed block on the mend

Bed block issues at Wollongong Hospital are improving, in contrast to worsening statewide figures showing ambulance crews are waiting longer at emergency departments.

However, ambulances are still being held up longer at Wollongong than the state average.

Figures released by the NSW Auditor-General yesterday showed the average ambulance waiting time at Wollongong Hospital in 2011-12 was 33 minutes, compared to 41 minutes the previous year.

The statewide average wait is 30 minutes.

A Wollongong paramedic said yesterday the figures confirmed what officers on the ground were experiencing.

"Things have definitely improved compared to the bed block trouble we had a few months back," the paramedic, who asked not to be named, said.

"There is a system in place at the hospital now where lower acuity patients are usually seen to in the rapid assessment room.

"Those patients can be seen to quickly and ambulances are freed up to return to their duties."

Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat's latest report found that, in the 2011-12 financial year, ambulances lost 84,680 hours waiting to transfer patients into hospital care, up from 78,224 the year before.

The worst offender was Gosford Hospital, with each crew forced to wait on average 42 minutes. Concord Hospital was the best performer with an average 25-minute wait.

Mr Achterstraat said instances of crews taking more than 30 minutes to transfer patients had increased by 10 per cent, after an increase in demand for hospitals of almost 5 per cent.

One in three, or 208,972 ambulance arrivals were delayed for longer than half an hour across the state.

"The longer ambulance crews are at hospitals, the less time they are available to respond to the next emergency," Mr Achterstraat said yesterday.

"There is also a financial impact of having ambulance crews waiting at hospitals.

Less than an hour after Mr Achterstraat released his report, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner announced plans to reform the NSW Ambulance Service.

She said non-emergency patient transport would be separated from urgent transport so the service was "able to focus on its core role - attending to emergencies".

The reforms follow an independent review into the ambulance service.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said the reforms were vague and designed to distract from the critical report.

He attributed the ambulance service's problems to billions in health savings and efficiencies announced by the NSW government.


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