Extreme congestion at Wollongong Hospital has again brought the region's ambulance service to its knees.This time questions have been raised about the impact of new emergency department beds that were supposed to solve the problem.Nine ambulances - the Illawarra's entire rostered fleet plus one of its three on-call vehicles - queued for up to 3? hours at the hospital on Friday night, despite 15 new emergency department beds reportedly coming online days earlier.A frustrated ambulance paramedic told the Mercury the backlog went against pledges that the new resources, announced by both State and Federal governments over the past 15 months, would alleviate pressure on the emergency department."Ambos were advised there would be no more bed block. This has been a dismal failure," said the officer, who did not want to be identified."On Friday the hospital was in meltdown. There were 13 people waiting for beds in the waiting room. (We saw) hospital management staff break down and cry with the pressure that they were under to try and solve the problems."Those (new) beds are non-acute beds, where people come in when they've got something minor wrong with them, and go home later on. The people in the Illawarra who call ambulances are very sick."Ambulance management and the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service have expressed disappointment at the remarks, saying strategies were in place to alleviate ongoing bed block, and that they were largely working.A spokeswoman for the health service pointed to the annual wintertime peak in demand to explain Friday's troubles.She said 21 ambulances attended the hospital between 5pm and midnight.This was in addition to a number of non-ambulance presentations, including eight patients requiring critical care and "many others" requiring complex treatment."When a large influx of patients attends the ED (emergency department) over a short period ... sometimes waits for less urgent presentations are unavoidable," she said."Fifteen new beds in the expanded emergency department are now operational. There will be four additional treatment spaces available (when the expansion is complete)."In April last year the State Government announced $3.2 million for seven new treatment bays at Wollongong Hospital's emergency department, boosting the total from 28 to 35.The announcement marked the first boost to the emergency department's capacity in more than a decade, despite patient numbers growing by about 25 per cent over the previous four years.Last month the Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, travelled to Wollongong to announce the Commonwealth would take over ongoing funding for the new beds, and would provide additional funding for a 12-bed short stay unit.The health service yesterday could not clarify which of the beds had come online.Ambulance district manager Norm Rees said the paramedic's views weren't shared by ambulance management "on this occasion"."Behind the scenes, unbeknown to most ambos, there are strategies being worked on and for the best part they are working. It's just unfortunate that on Friday evening, because of a number of contributing factors ... it fell over."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.