Taking knife to wait list


THE North Coast Area Health Service is aiming to have no "long-term" waiting lists for surgical patients at Tweed public hospitals by the middle of this year.

NCAHS chief executive Chris Crawford yesterday said the surgical list for North Coast public hospital patients waiting 12 months or more had dropped from 1656 to 472 over the past 12 months.

He said the aim was to reduce the number of long-term waiters for surgery to zero by June 30, due to improved clinical procedures.

Mr Crawford welcomed a proposed national 24-hour "nurses hotline" to ease patient numbers at public hospital emergency departments.

The hotline, revealed yesterday to be under discussion by federal and state health ministers, would enable registered nurses to give on-the-phone diagnoses.

Mr Crawford said the hotline, already operating in Western Australia and the United Kingdom, would allow nurses to direct patients away from emergency departments to GPs or pharmacies, or to reassure patients that direct medical intervention might not be necessary, especially with after-hours cases.

However, he said it was an "open question" whether the hotline would actually ease pressure on emergency departments and any success would depend on how many GPs were available or willing to see patients referred from the hotline.

Last week, the Tweed Division of General Practice confirmed there was a local doctor shortage after Mr Crawford said more GPs were needed to ease the workload at hospital emergency departments.

Latest NSW Health figures released yesterday show surgical waiting lists in public hospitals across the state have dropped, despite an increase in the number of patients being admitted to emergency departments.

Premier Morris Iemma said the waiting list fall was achieved despite a 10 per cent increase in the number of people attending emergency departments.

He said the decrease showed the state government's plan to deliver surgery to patients was working and the goal now was to ensure no one waited more than a year for surgery.

But Mr Iemma declined to give a time frame for statewide abolition of long-wait surgery lists.

NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos said the government was still undertaking an overseas recruitment process to boost hospital worker numbers.

Opposition Leader Peter Debnam said Labor was using fabricated statistics to soften up voters before the next election.

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