A more than 10 per cent increase in ambulance arrivals at the district's hospitals has put added pressure on emergency departments, a new report reveals.
Almost 12,000 ambulances arrived at hospitals across the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District from January to March - around 1150 more than the same quarter last year.
Just over 6000 of the ambulances this year went to Wollongong Hospital's ED, where patients waited longer to have their care transferred from paramedics to hospital staff.
The median time for transfer increased to 12 minutes in the first quarter of 2019, while the longest waits were up to 37 minutes - more than 15 minutes longer than early 2018 figures.
In total, 85.4 per cent of patients arriving by ambulance to Wollongong ED had their care transferred within the 30 minute target, compared to 95.9 per cent in 2018 - a drop of 10.5 percentage points.
A new reporting system introduced by the Bureau of Health Information this year also revealed that Illawarra residents waited longer for ambulances to arrive in the first three months of the year.
In BHI's latest Healthcare Quarterly report, ambulance activity and performance measures were collated for 91 areas for the first time, rather than the 18 ambulance zones previously reported on.
The new statistics show that from January to March, there were just over 13,200 ambulance responses to addresses from Helensburgh to Kiama.
In Wollongong the number of responses rose three per cent from the same quarter in 2018; while they jumped around 15 per cent in both the Dapto/Port Kembla and Kiama/Shellharbour statistical areas.
The rise in demand across the region saw some declines in ambulance performance, and increased response times.
In the Wollongong and in the Kiama/Shellharbour areas, more than four out of 10 (44 per cent) emergency category patients waited longer than 15 minutes for an ambulance from the time their Triple 0 call was answered.
In the Dapto/Port Kembla area, more than half the emergency patients waited longer than 15 minutes.
Meanwhile the median response time for an ambulance for emergency patients in Wollongong was 12.1 minutes, up from 10.9 minutes in the first three months of 2018. For urgent calls, the median response time was 19.1 minutes, up from 16.3 minutes.
Emergency cases in Dapto/ Port Kembla waited for a median 13.9 minutes for an ambulance; and 12.4 minutes in Kiama/Shellharbour.
Wollongong MP Paul Scully said the independent statistics released by BHI this week further reinforced the need to boost funds to the district's hospitals.
He said pressure on Wollongong Hospital's ED was particularly "crushing", with the median time for patients to leave increasing to three hours and 40 minutes.
The increase in ambulance arrivals across the district, including at Wollongong, had exacerbated the issues.
"While the median ambulance transfer time for Wollongong Hospital remains at the NSW average the fact that there has been a more than 10 per cent drop in the number of transfers on target is a worrying trend," he said.
"It goes to the heart of the issues that the latest statistics show; that all parts of our local health and hospital system are under crushing pressure.
"There is no way of avoiding the fact that additional resources are needed - you cannot hide from the facts. In Tuesday's budget the Berejiklian Government must provide Wollongong Hospital with a budget boost."
ISLHD executive director clinical operations, Margaret Martin, said Wollongong Hospital's ED systems and models of care were continually reviewed.
She said the report also revealed some achievements across the district this year, including the fact that nine out of 10 elective surgery procedures were completed within clinically recommended timeframes.