Three graphs illustrating our state’s growing health crisis

The President of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Clare Skinner said the influx of complex cases is preventing emergency personnel from tending to other minor injuries and ailments.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that the category one patient receives the care they need because they are life-threatening,” she said. “But it means that the other patients in the ER have to endure longer wait times because the staff is being redirected to this critical patient in the ER [resuscitation] Room.”

The two most urgent categories account for 17 percent of all presentations, but have a disproportionate impact on emergency personnel, Skinner said.

“Imagine working in a system where you treat one critical patient at a time and don’t have time for debriefing or relaxation,” she said. “That puts a lot of pressure on our senior doctors and nurses.”

The Office only presents data and does not question the reasons for the steady increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with urgent care needs. The increase is not related to COVID but continues the increase seen before the pandemic.

Paramedics are tending to more critically ill patients than ever before

The increasing severity can also be seen in the rescue data. The 13,525 patients who fall into the “P1A Top Priority” category (for the most life-threatening conditions requiring an ambulance within 10 minutes) are the highest number of any registered three months.

Of the top-priority patients, 64 percent were treated within the 10-minute benchmark, an improvement from the previous year.

The total number of rescue operations between April and June reached 357,491, another record high and a continuation of the upward trend of the last decade.

Acting NSW Deputy Health Secretary Joanne Edwards said she was confident in the ability of emergency staff to deal with the increasing severity of cases, but acknowledged it was frustrating for the community to experience longer wait times.

“The thing that we really need to focus on in the ER is making sure the critically ill are cared for,” she said. “It’s a bit of a juggling thing that we always have to get through.”

Despite handling more cases than ever before, paramedic response times have improved over the past year. For the highest priority cases, the median response time dropped from 9.1 to 8.3 minutes.

Edwards said NSW Health was constantly monitoring ambulance performance to ensure the system was “as prepared as possible”.

Patients stay longer in the hospital

The average length of hospital stay has increased by 12.5 percent to 6.3 days since the pandemic.

There were 483,500 admissions in the quarter, up from early 2022 but similar to numbers the public health system recorded before the pandemic.

BWI chief executive Diane Watson said patients diagnosed with COVID-19 when admitted stayed in hospital twice as long on average as other patients, while those discharged into residential aged care stayed even longer.

“For the small cohort of patients who received a COVID-19 diagnosis and were discharged into an inpatient aged care setting, the median length of stay continued to increase,” she said.

Health Secretary Ryan Park acknowledged the health system was “under a lot of pressure and strain” and said there were “no quick fixes”.

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“It will take time to overcome these challenges,” he said the herald.

“It is encouraging to see that NSW Health’s workforce has seen net growth in the April-June quarter and this is being bolstered by the onboarding of 1200 nurses and midwives to achieve a secure workforce.”

Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said the task force investigating health spending would help diagnose problems within the system and could not come quickly enough.

“You can’t just look at the deployment of ambulances and think you can solve the problem, it’s a whole health problem,” he said.

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Justin Scaccy

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