Patient readmission rates cause concern

Shellharbour MP Anna Watson has called on NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to explain why unplanned patient readmission rates continue to blow out at the region's hospitals.

A report by NSW Auditor-General Grant Hehir has revealed that unplanned hospital readmissions for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District were significantly higher than the state average for the past two financial years.

The report Focusing on Health shows that 9.3 per cent of patients were readmitted to hospital in the region within 28 days in the year ending June 2013, compared with the state average of 6.7 per cent.

The report, released in December, showed that the region's rate of readmission for patients in the year to June 2012 was just slightly lower at 9.2 per cent.

According to the report, unplanned readmissions occur when discharged patients return to the same hospital unexpectedly.

"Monitoring the number of patients who experience unplanned readmissions to a hospital after a previous hospital stay is one way NSW Health judges the quality of hospital care," it states.

"An example of an unplanned readmission is someone who is readmitted to the hospital for a surgical wound infection that occurred after their initial hospital stay."

Ms Watson said the blow-out was a "very serious issue for health care provision in the region".

"I have written to the Minister for Health ... seeking an explanation from the government on why unplanned readmissions rates remain so high in our local hospitals and what is being done to ensure those statistics are reversed," she said.

"If a patient is readmitted during those 28 days, that puts extra pressure on our hospital system, and on our doctors and nurses. That has a flow-on effect by putting extra pressure on elective surgery.

"It also has a huge effect on the patient and their families who are left wondering 'what's going on?'; 'why weren't they treated properly in the first place?'; 'was something missed?' "

However an Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District spokeswoman said the most recent data available from the Ministry of Health indicated that the unplanned readmission rate for the district had now dropped to 8 per cent as at the end of December 2013.

She said the year-on-year performance showed a reduction in the readmission rates at all the hospitals within the district.

"The improved rate has been as a result of consistent data analysis and actions to ensure that patient admissions are correctly classified, and that preventable readmissions are identified, analysed and steps are taken to avoid unnecessary readmissions in the future," she said.

"The [district] continues to put considerable effort into these improvement actions as each new round of data is assessed and actions to further reduce unplanned readmissions are identified."