ON TIME: Grafton Base Hospital emergency department.
ON TIME: Grafton Base Hospital emergency department.

Flu season puts our emergency under strain

GRAFTON Base Hospital had more emergency department presentations in the previous quarter than ever before as an extended flu season took its toll on patients and hospitals.

Maclean District Hospital also had more than 17 per cent jump in their emergency presentations over the same time last year.

And while health authorities have praised the work of staff, who in some cases improved the hospital’s treatment statistics, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association has pointed to the figures to again push for urgent extra nursing staff to meet growing demand.

At Grafton Base Hospital, 6893 people presented to emergency from July to September 2019, an increase over the same period last year.

Despite the increase, the time taken to treat patients is stable or improved across the boards, including a rise to 76.7 per cent of patients who were treated on time, a 2.2 per cent rise from last year, and more than 6 per cent ahead of their statewide peer group.

79.5 per cent of patients left the ED within four hours, an almost 9 per cent increase on their peer group average.

Maclean District Hospital strained under the extra load, with 3540 patients presenting at ED, an increase of 17.7 per cent over this time last year.

The percentage of people starting treatment on time fell to 68.9 per cent, a 4.5 per cent drop on this time last year, and 7 per cent below their peer hospitals.

The amount of patients leaving the ED within four hours fell 3 per cent to 83.7 per cent, though this is in line with their peer group average.

Northern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive Wayne Jones attributed the rise in admissions to the longest flu season in NSW since the 2009 pandemic.

He said increases in demand were being experienced right across the District, with every hospital recording a jump in activity.

“This is not a case of huge outliers pushing averages up, but big increases across the board,” Mr Jones said.

“Every single one of our hospitals had increases in emergency presentations and the number of ambulances arriving.”

Mr Jones praised the commitment of staff to delivering excellent care throughout the increased activity.

“Even with more people coming through our doors, we’re still among the top performing local health districts. Our staff should be very proud of their efforts.”

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association has seized on the figures to again push for more staff in hospitals.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the ongoing strain on emergency departments and the need for more nurses to keep up with unprecedented demand was evident.

“It’s clear our public hospital system is in desperate need of a new nurse-to-patient ratios system to manage demand more effectively, including a ratio of one nurse to three patients in our emergency departments,” said Mr Holmes.

“Year after year, the pressure on emergency departments has continued to build and it’s taking a toll on nurses. The BHI data shows presentations are rising, yet nurses and other hospital staff are simply asked to absorb the increased workloads.

“It’s unsustainable and frankly, it’s unsafe. The government is stubbornly relying on a staffing model that we all know can be manipulated to save hospital costs.

Mr Jones said that between mid 2012 and mid 2019 the Northern NSW Local Health District increased its workforce by an additional 843 full time equivalent staff - an increase of 22.4 per cent including 115 more doctors, 280 more nurses and midwives, and 53 more allied health staff.



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