Task force to tackle record emergency wait times

By Maeve Bannister, Duncan Murray and Samantha Lock
Updated December 6 2023 - 12:25pm, first published 12:22pm
The number of people treated within four hours at NSW emergency departments is the lowest on record. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)
The number of people treated within four hours at NSW emergency departments is the lowest on record. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

A task force will be established to tackle the record amount of time patients are waiting for care in NSW emergency departments.

The latest NSW Bureau of Health Information (BHI) data shows just slightly more than half the patients who attended an emergency department left within four hours, the lowest share for any quarter since reporting began in 2010.

Between July and September, there were 771,744 emergency attendances, up more than 27,000 (3.6 per cent) compared to the same quarter last year.

One in 10 people spent longer than 10 hours waiting in emergency departments, while a similar share who arrived at hospital by ambulance waited longer than an hour to be transferred to emergency department staff.

Of the 61,559 patients who could not wait any longer and left before receiving or completing treatment, nearly one-third were considered in urgent need of care.

But Health Minister Ryan Park said almost half of the patients attending emergency departments could have been treated by a GP or other health professional instead.

"These are things that are putting serious pressure on our emergency departments," he said.

The most common reasons people gave for not seeking alternative health services were that they were closed or they couldn't get an appointment within a reasonable time.

Premier Chris Minns will use Wednesday's national cabinet meeting to push for more federal funding to improve primary health care.

A task force will be established to tackle emergency department wait times, following on from a similar group previously set up to address a backlog of scheduled surgeries.

It will be made up of health workers and NSW Health officials, including some from regional areas, to identify strategies that work and expand them to other locations.

"What I want is to scan right across the system, from our very, very best, having looked at what is working well, what we can be doing more and what we need to invest in," Mr Park said.

The NSW government is rolling out 25 urgent-care clinics across the state to help divert unnecessary presentations to hospitals.

It is also giving pharmacists powers to prescribe certain medications, increasing the use of virtual care and making it easier for doctors in regional health districts to work in both GP and hospital settings.

The BHI report showed there had been a significant decrease in the number of patients on the elective surgery waiting list, while more patients had received their surgery on time, which the government attributed to the surgical care task force it established earlier this year.

There were 10.4 per cent more elective surgeries performed in the most recent quarter than during the same period last year and more than 80 per cent of operations were completed on time.

The number of patients who had waited longer than clinically recommended decreased by more than 60 per cent to 6937.

Australian Associated Press