Staff at Wollongong and Shellharbour hospitals were faced with busier emergency departments this year than last, even before this latest outbreak of COVID-19 ramped up in the region.
The latest data from the Bureau of Health Information for the April to June quarter shows the number of emergency presentations at Wollongong Hospital grew by almost 36 per cent from the same period the year before, while Shellharbour Hospital recorded a 38 per cent increase.
There were increases in all triage categories at Wollongong Hospital, with the biggest among those deemed urgent cases: a 47.3 per cent increase on the April to June 2020 quarter.
Shellharbour saw the number of resuscitation and non-urgent presentations drop, but there were significant jumps in the urgent and semi-urgent triage categories, at 42.2 per cent and 44.3 per cent respectively.
The greater numbers of emergency department visits in the Illawarra correlated with a decline in the proportion of patients who began treatment within the target times.
Overall at Wollongong Hospital, 66.2 per cent of emergency department patients had treatment started on time, down from 84.7 per cent at the same time last year; however, the hospital still outperformed other similar hospitals as a whole.
Shellharbour Hospital saw 68.6 per cent of its patients begin treatment on time compared to 76.4 per cent, and it was only slightly below its peer group average.
Elective surgeries at Wollongong Hospital more than doubled from the second quarter of 2020 to the same period in 2021, yet it recorded improvements in the proportion of patients who had their surgeries performed on time.
Shellharbour Hospital reported an increase in elective surgeries of almost 51 per cent and while the proportion of urgent surgeries performed on time fell from 100 per cent to 96.9 per cent, performance improved in the other categories.
Across the state, the last quarter was the busiest ever seen in terms of the numbers of emergency department presentations, elective surgeries performed, ambulance call-outs and babies born.
NSW Health said the figures confirmed the pressures of preparing for and responding to the COVID pandemic.
"The April-June 2021 reporting period demonstrates the resilience of the NSW Health system and, in particular, our extraordinary staff," NSW Health deputy secretary of patient experience and system performance Wayne Jones said.
"In this period, the system bounced back from the impacts of the first wave of COVID-19 and, in particular, the national halt of elective surgery in 2020."
Hospitals in Greater Sydney, including Wollongong, have come under increasing strain since this April to June reporting period, following the emergence of the Delta outbreak on June 16.
Almost 40,000 people have contracted COVID since that date, and thousands have been hospitalised.