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Byron Shire
September 21, 2021

Health care in crisis: report

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Australian Medical Association NSW (AMA NSW) President, Prof Brad Frankum, says the ongoing record-breaking numbers of patients presenting at NSW Hospitals shows a complete failure to address healthcare needs.

‘In 2016, all-time records were broken at the beginning of the year and then again at the end of the year for emergency department presentations.

‘The proportion of patients in the more urgent triage categories is increasing and 2016 also saw all-time records broken for the number of sicker patients who need to be admitted to hospital from the emergency department.

‘More urgent cases require more time and resources to treat and that’s left performance measures against things like the four-hour rule paralysed.’

Emergency

North Coast emergency department data, shows patients had lengthy waits – above or around the statewide average of 25.7 per cent.

At Lismore, 31.3 per cent waited longer than four hours; at Ballina, 20.1 per cent; at Grafton, 19.2 per cent; and at Tweed, 18.2 per cent.

‘Sadly, patients wait at every stage in NSW,’ said Shadow Health Minister and Shadow Minister for the North Coast, Walt Secord.

‘They wait for an ambulance; they wait outside the emergency department and they wait inside the emergency department. They wait for a bed and then they are discharged early to make room for other patients.

‘State and Federal government health funding has not kept pace with population growth and changes on the North Coast.’

Prof Frankum, President of the AMA NSW, continued to point out that like everywhere else in NSW, hospitals on the North Coast are extremely busy.

In fact, Lismore Hospital was admitting more than 40 per cent of its emergency department presentations to hospital.

To put it in perspective, it was admitting a greater proportion of patients to hospital from the ED than Royal North Shore, one of Sydney’s busiest hospitals.

While at Ballina, there was an explosion in the number of triage 1 and triage 2 patients – people who need the most urgent treatment.

It would certainly appear that the underfunding of general practice is starting to result in people presenting to hospitals with more severe illnesses, that may have been prevented if they had better access to a GP.’

However, Northern NSW Local Health District welcomed the report regarding elective surgery performance.

‘The report indicates that many hospitals within the NNSW LHD have seen an increase in numbers of elective surgeries being performed,’ said Wayne Jones, Chief Executive, Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD). 

‘At Murwillumbah District Hospital and Grafton Base Hospital, which have seen some of the biggest increases in elective surgery numbers, the percentage of patients being treated within recommended timeframes has increased compared with the same quarter last year.’

None-the-less around 10 per cent of elective surgery patients waited over 300 days for surgery at north coast hospitals excluding Ballina and Maclean.

Elective Surgery

BHI data shows that North Coast hospitals continue to be under enormous pressure as official elective surgery waiting lists grew to 4,658 patients – an increase of 276 patients over the same period a year ago.

Elective surgery includes: cataract removal; hip replacements; knee replacements; gall bladder; ear, nose and throat; and tonsillectomies.

However, Northern NSW Local Health District welcomed the report regarding elective surgery performance.

‘The report indicates that many hospitals within the NNSW LHD have seen an increase in numbers of elective surgeries being performed,’ said Wayne Jones, Chief Executive, Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD). 

‘At Murwillumbah District Hospital and Grafton Base Hospital, which have seen some of the biggest increases in elective surgery numbers, the percentage of patients being treated within recommended timeframes has increased compared with the same quarter last year.’

None-the-less around 10 per cent of elective surgery patients waited over 300 days for surgery at north coast hospitals excluding Ballina and Maclean.

Commonwealth responsibility 

Doctors and other staff members at hospitals are under incredible stress, as unprecedented patient loads just keep increasing in number,’ continued Prof Frankum.

‘The Commonwealth needs to move immediately to appropriately fund healthcare and this includes lifting the indexation freeze and addressing the years of underfunding this has contributed to.

‘It needs to commit to long-term certainty of hospital funding and to develop a comprehensive vision for our health system based on making Australians healthier.

‘This will also require investment in general practice which is proven to be the best investment in people’s health in terms of bang for buck.

‘Instead of a vision for a healthier Australia, we have seen policies enacted aimed at turning people away from general practice and increasing the cost of health care.

‘It’s little wonder that, in these circumstances, record numbers of patients are turning up at emergency departments in worse states than ever before.

‘We need action from all levels of government now.’

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