Hospitals crumbling under the strain of record visits

Ambulance call-outs and emergency department visits have hit a record high in NSW as people face increasingly long waits or give up and leave the state's strained public hospitals.

Some 810,201 people attended NSW emergency departments from the start of January to the end of March, an increase of more than five per cent compared with the same period in 2023.

Attendances reached the highest of any quarter since the state's Bureau of Health Information began reporting in 2010.

The figures, revealed in a quarterly report released by the bureau on Wednesday, come amid a falling number of GPs providing care to patients in the state.

Just over two-thirds of those who attended emergency departments had their treatments start on time, but only 55.9 per cent of patients left within the targeted four-hour period - a record low.

hospitals crumbling under the strain of record visits

NSW Health Minister Ryan Park says the government is making structural reforms to the health system. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

One in 10 people spent nearly 11 hours in emergency departments, while more than 74,000 patients left either without treatment or with incomplete care - an increase of almost 17 per cent on a year earlier.

Health Minister Ryan Park said public hospitals were under unprecedented pressure due to past underfunding, which remained a significant challenge.

"But we are undertaking the structural reforms to our health system to ensure our community receives the care they need and deserve – by delivering the single largest boost to our workforce in the history of our health system, and creating more pathways to treatment and care outside the hospital," he said.

Additional urgent-care services have been rolled out since July in an attempt to keep people with less-serious conditions out of emergency departments.

Bureau of Health Information chief executive Diane Watson called for an expansion of the "hospital in the home" clinical model.

The program provides care for common conditions including infections, allowing patients to recover in familiar surroundings, but its use has varied considerably across the state, she said.

"The clear potential for the expansion of this model of care therefore presents an opportunity for patients, as well as NSW health services, to benefit from increased hospital bed capacity," Dr Watson said.

Public hospital admissions across the state hit 481,335 patients in the quarter, up 2.7 per cent on the same period in 2023.

Ambulance activity was up more than 10 per cent to hit a record 383,341 responses.

hospitals crumbling under the strain of record visits

Ambulance services have been put under heavy pressure. (Paul Miller/AAP PHOTOS)

More than 17,000 of those call-outs were the highest-priority cases, an increase of more than 57 per cent.

The median response time of 8.3 minutes was within the 10-minute benchmark.

Elective surgeries fell more than six per cent to 51,149, but procedures were increasingly performed on time.

The data shows a catastrophe waiting to happen, Australian Medical Association NSW president Kathryn Austin said.

"It is becoming increasingly impossible for the doctors and health workers of NSW to deliver the care that the citizens of this state deserve," she said.

Record demand is not being matched by record investment and the health system needs more than taskforces and inquiries, Dr Austin said.

"It needs genuine cash injections."

The record-high emergency department attendance and ambulance activity come after the number of general practitioners in NSW fell by more than 500.

There were 9549 full-time equivalent GPs in NSW in the 2022/23 financial year, compared with 10,062 in 2021/22.

More than 10 per cent of the cohort were also trainees, according to national GP workforce data from December.

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