The NSW government has announced it will establish a taskforce to bring down emergency department wait times, the day after new data revealed patients at Wollongong Hospital are waiting longer than ever.
The ED taskforce will identify and implement improvement strategies, including tackling bed block and patient flow problems, safely discharging patients quicker, improving the experience of both patients and staff, and moving patients to other parts of the system where appropriate.
The taskforce will include both health workers and NSW Health officials from across the state.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows the average wait time for all emergency department patients at Wollongong in 2022-23 was four hours and 41 minutes, while the average wait for patients who needed a hospital bed was 10 hours and seven minutes.
These were both the highest figures on record for the hospital, and well above the state averages.
One in 10 Wollongong patients who needed to be admitted to hospital from the ED waited almost 28 hours.
The government says the proportion of cases that could be treated in primary or aged care settings is a significant strain on emergency departments.
New Bureau of Health Information (BHI) data also released this week showed almost half of all presentations to emergency departments in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District were for more minor ailments, like sprained ankles, earaches or small cuts and abrasions.
Health Minister and Keira MP Ryan Park said the ED taskforce was the latest measure to improve wait times.
The government says its other initiatives include the gradual roll-out of 25 urgent care services (such as that at Bulli Hospital), expanding medication prescription powers to pharmacists, increasing the use of virtual care, and making it easier for doctors in regional areas to work in both general practice and hospitals.
"I'm proud of our local healthcare workers in the Illawarra who have faced serious challenges over the past couple of years but continue to show professionalism amidst record presentations and demand on our health system," Mr Park said.
Wollongong MP Paul Scully said population growth and an ageing population placed pressure each day on hospital resources and staff.
The BHI data showed a slight improvement in the July-September quarter on the year 2022-23.
Over those three months the average patient at Wollongong waited four hours and 52 minutes from arrival to leaving the ED.
But one in 10 patients still faced a wait of more than 16 hours, while admitted patients spent an average of 10 hours and seven minutes.
Both the AIHW and BHI figures showed more patients were coming in needing acute care.