NSW records longest ambulance wait times since records were made publicly available

Ambulances in NSW are taking longer to respond to emergencies than at any point since records were publicly available 12 years ago, new data reveals.

The quarterly report from the Bureau of Health Information (BHI) tracked the performance of public hospitals and ambulance services from January to March this year.

“In general, patients waited longer for care in emergency departments, for elective surgery and for ambulances,” BHI chief executive Dr Diane Watson said.

The quarter saw a high number of Omicron cases and a relaxing of public health restrictions, resulting in a “fluctuation in hospital and ambulance activity and performance”, Dr Watson said.

The median time for ambulances to respond to the most urgent cases was 8.8 minutes, the highest since the BHI started reporting in 2010, but within the 10-minute target.

In 39 out of 48 regions in Greater Sydney, median response times were up in the first quarter of 2022, compared with the same time last year.

In Wollondilly, ambulances took a median of 11 minutes to respond to the most urgent cases, an increase of two minutes compared with 2021.

Bree Edge’s five-year-old daughter Asha, who has adrenal insufficiency, was losing consciousness when she called an ambulance to her home in Buxton in February this year.

The ambulance took an hour to arrive, a response time she described as “not acceptable at all”.

“I don’t blame paramedics, I don’t blame the medical staff, but as a whole it is just absolutely not good for patients in dire situations to be waiting an hour or more for an ambulance,” she told the ABC.

The median ambulance response for all emergency cases was 15.7 minutes and 40 per cent of the most urgent cases were within the 10-minute target, both measures the worst since reporting began in 2010.

A mother and daughter sitting side by side smiling
Bree Edge and five-year-old daughter Asha were forced to wait an hour for an ambulance.(Supplied)

NSW Ambulance responded to 326,544 calls in the quarter, of which a record high 9,360 were triaged as immediately life-threatening.

NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dr Dominic Morgan said there has been a “massive uplift” in triple-0 calls during the pandemic.

Ambulance services across Australia on Tuesday launched a campaign titled Save Triple-0 for Emergencies.

ED backlog

Once patients reached the emergency department, they faced long waits.

Three in four patients waited for more than four hours before being admitted, while one in 10 spent longer than 18 hours in emergency departments.

But NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce said that figure is “not a waiting time, it’s a treatment time”.

“It may be that you’ve arrived, you’re receiving treatment very quickly within the timeframe of your arrival, and that treatment is ongoing beyond four hours.

“When you talk about emergency departments, it’s one thing to talk about data points, it’s another thing to talk about effort.”

She said the number of patients triaged into the most serious “emergency” category rose by 8.2 per cent.

A close up photo of a young girl smiling

Pressures multiply

While the number of COVID cases is falling, a bad flu season is continuing to put pressure on emergency departments.

Two hundred and twenty people with flu-like illness, which did not include COVID patients, were admitted to hospitals from emergency departments in the first week of June.

More than 500 children went to emergency departments with bronchiolitis and 39 per cent of them needed to be admitted to hospital.

Pauses in elective surgery during the pandemic were also reflected in the report.

Just 80 per cent of all elective surgery was performed on time, the lowest result since BHI reporting began.

Waiting times for semi-urgent elective surgery were the longest on record.

“This quarter simply cannot be compared to any other quarter ever recorded, it was an extraordinary period for our health system,” Ms Pearce said.

Posted , updated 

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