Overcrowding at Wollongong Hospital's emergency department will continue for at least 12 months, a Wollongong ambulance officer warned yesterday.The problem reached crisis point again at the weekend and yesterday, with every available ambulance officer called into duty and a temporary emergency department set up at Bulli Hospital.Ambulances were even banked up at 3am on Sunday, according to Wollongong Ambulance district manager Norman Rees.Patients were transferred to Shellharbour and Bulli hospitals, beds were pulled out from other wards and an annexe was opened at Bulli Hospital to help cope with the high demand.At any given time yesterday, up to 10 ambulances were parked outside Wollongong Hospital's emergency department, waiting up to three hours to offload patients.Mr Rees said there were enough ambulance vehicles and paramedics. Emergency department staff and extra beds were needed.The State Government has announced seven new beds and six additional nursing positions, but they won't be forthcoming until June next year. Until then, overcrowding would continue, Mr Rees said.Spare stretchers were being set up in hospital corridors so that patients could be transferred on to them when the ambulance they arrived in was required to attend another emergency.Supervisors also were being called on to help.A South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service spokesperson confirmed extra capacity had been activated at Shellharbour and Bulli hospitals over the weekend."There has been a higher than usual rate of presentation at times during the past week on top of the traditional winter seasonal increase and additional cases of people taking precautions regarding swine flu," the spokesperson said."The most seriously ill patients are always treated first so we ask that people with flu-like symptoms and mild conditions see their GP and leave the emergency department for emergencies."Mr Rees said every available bed at the three hospitals had been opened over the weekend to help clear the backlog."It alleviates (the problem) but they've still got to get staff (to man the beds) and that's an issue as well," Mr Rees said."They're already on bare minimum of staff and everybody's getting flogged with it. They can't fill the wards, that's why they can't open (more beds)."
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