A massive drop in presentations at Wollongong Hospital's emergency department has led to a corresponding rise in the number of patients starting treatment on time.
The Bureau of Health Information figures for the April to June quarter reveal the dramatic impact the COVID-19 pandemic had had on hospital performance locally, and across the state.
At Wollongong Hospital there was a 20.5 per cent fall in the number of ED presentations - from 18,061 in April to June 2019, to 14,357 in the same quarter in 2020.
Admissions to hospital from the ED were down by 33.8 per cent this quarter - with just over 4400 patients admitted.
The story was similar across the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District with 32,225 ED presentations across all hospitals, down over 9000 or 22 per cent on the same quarter in 2019.
BHI senior director Hilary Rowell said EDs across the state were far less busy during the quarter.
Our reports contain data on hospital performance, yet they can't show the challenges of running an ED in these times, and these circumstances.
"We know the COVID-19 restrictions served to reduce demand on EDs," she said.
"There were fewer outdoor activities and fewer people on the roads, so fewer injuries and accidents.
"Better hand hygiene and social distancing also worked to reduce transmission of colds and flu, so that would have had an impact on presentations too."
Not surprisingly with fewer patients, Wollongong ED's performance lifted, with more timely transfer of care and treatment.
Almost 85 per cent of patients started their treatment on time in the quarter - an increase of 14.7 percentage points on the same quarter in 2019.
However there was little change in the percentage of patients leaving the ED within the state benchmark of four hours - which remained at about 55 per cent.
There was a slight improvement in this measure at Shellharbour Hospital's ED where 66 per cent of patients left within four hours; and at Shoalhaven's ED with 59.7 per cent leaving in that time.
"Our reports contain data on hospital performance, yet they can't show the challenges of running an ED in these times, and these circumstances," Ms Rowell added.
ISLHD executive director clinical operations Margaret Martin said the district's hospitals had continued to deliver high quality care at a time they were focused on their COVID-19 preparation and response.
That had had a flow-on impact in particular on Wollongong Hospital's ED, which had been reconfigured to provide a dedicated assessment area for suspected COVID-19 patients.
"Ongoing redesign within Wollongong ED will focus on maximising available space and staffing for both non-COVID and suspected COVID patients," she said.
Ms Martin said there were many initiatives underway to improve the delivery and timeliness of ED care.
These included the placement of 'patient experience officers' at Wollongong, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven hospitals.
"As part of this role, the staff welcome ED patients and their families and provide them with directions and information about what to expect at each stage of their care and treatment," she said.
Another initiative across the district is the ED Transformation Redesign Program, a model of care which aims to get earlier senior medical input to reduce patient's length of stay in the department.
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.