Lismore Base Hospital in Lismore.
Lismore Base Hospital in Lismore.

Emergency, elective surgery returning to pre-COVID levels

There are vital signs emergency department activity and elective surgery have returned to levels not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.

Hospitals in the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) are getting busier.

According to the latest Bureau of Health Information quarterly report, the local health district recorded relatively stable emergency department (ED) attendances during October to December 2020, with 54,687 ED attendances for the quarter, down just 1.5 per cent, or 858, compared with the same quarter in 2019.

While overall presentations across the district were slightly below 2019 Ballina, Byron, Grafton and Lismore all saw record numbers of ED attendances - higher than any quarter previously reported by the BHI.

Increases in presentations were seen in the Triage 1 resuscitation category, with 15.2 per cent (or 37) more presentations compared to the same quarter in 2019. There were 5.4 per cent (or 310) more Triage 2 emergency category presentations compared to the same period in 2019, up to 6,091.

Presentations in the semi-urgent and non-urgent triage categories were down by 4.5 and 4.3 per cent respectively.

The report showed 74.3 per cent of patients started treatment on time, which was relatively stable, slightly down 2.1 percentage points on the same quarter in 2019.

NNSWLHD Chief Executive Wayne Jones said as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, the extra requirements of COVID-safe care had now become embedded across the hospital setting.

"Our staff are taking every precaution to keep our health facilities and our communities safe when assessing and triaging patients coming into our hospitals," Mr Jones said.

"This means they need to use additional personal protective equipment where required, and screen patients for possible exposure to COVID-19, which can add extra time on to the usual triage process.

"Our staff are doing an incredible job at providing compassionate and expert care under difficult circumstances, and I want to acknowledge their continued efforts over the past 12 months."

In the October to December 2020 quarter, 3.3 per cent or 127 more elective surgeries were performed, up to 3,988, compared to 3,861 in the same period in 2019. Almost all (99.9 per cent) of the 860 urgent elective surgeries were performed on time.

"We've worked hard to increase our elective surgery activity throughout the second half of 2020, to address those cases that were overdue following postponement of elective surgery during the COVID lockdown, which was directed by national cabinet," Mr Jones said.

The NSW Government has invested an extra $458.5 million to fast-track elective surgeries which were delayed as a result of the Federal Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring patients will be booked into public or private hospitals as soon as possible.

Between mid-2012 and mid-2020 the Northern NSW Local Health District increased its workforce by an additional 1008 full time equivalent staff - an increase of 26.7 per cent - including 171 more doctors, 367 more nurses and midwives, and 121 more allied health staff.

The 2020-21 budget for Northern NSW Local Health District was more than $926 million - an increase of almost $39 million, or 4.4 per cent, on the 2019-20 budget.

Since March 2020, the NSW Government has committed more than $3 billion to help transform the healthcare system to increase its capacity and ensure it is well placed to manage the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and respond to any future crises. This funding has helped bring the 2020-21 Health budget to $29.3 billion.

Breakdown for individual hospitals:

Ballina District Hospital ED had 5,013 attendances, up 237 or 5 per cent on the same quarter in 2019. The percentage of patients who started their treatment on time improved by 0.8 percentage points up to 72.7 per cent and the median time to leave the ED decreased by ten minutes to one hour and 59 minutes.

Altogether 301 elective surgeries were performed, up 21.4 per cent, or 53 more, compared to the same quarter in 2019. All 69 urgent procedures were completed on time.

Byron Central Hospital ED had 319 more attendances, an increase of 5.4 per cent, with a total of 6,178 attendances during the October to December quarter, and 73.6 per cent of patients started their treatment on time. Semi urgent (T4) presentations were up 8.8 per cent to 2,966 compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Casino and District Memorial Hospital ED had a 6.4 per cent drop in attendances, down by 216 to 3,169. Of these, 77.2 per cent of patients started their treatment on time, a 7.2 percentage point increase compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Altogether 250 elective surgeries were performed, an increase of 13.1 per cent, with 96.8 per cent of all patients having their elective surgery on time.

Grafton Base Hospital ED had 6,947 attendances, an increase of 1.6 per cent or 110 attendances increase compared with the same period in 2019. 70.9 per cent of patients started their treatment on time.

Altogether 615 elective surgeries were performed, a 9.2 per cent increase (or 52 more) on 2019, with 100 per cent of the 103 urgent surgeries performed on time.

Lismore Base Hospital ED had 10,372 attendances during the October to December 2020 quarter, a 0.1 per cent increase, or 15 more attendances, compared with the same quarter in 2019. Arrivals by ambulance increased by 13.1 per cent, or 327, to a total of 2,828. During the quarter 64.3 per cent of patients started treatment on time.

A total of 1,397 elective surgeries were performed, up 4.4 per cent or 59 procedures, on 2019 and 100 per cent of urgent surgeries were performed on time.

Maclean District Hospital ED had a 7 per cent drop in attendances, down by 252 to a total of 3,367. The median time to treatment improved across all triage categories, and 69.5 per cent of patients started treatment on time, an improvement of 4.9 percentage points compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Murwillumbah District Hospital had a 1.1 per cent decrease in ED attendances (down by 47), with 4,425 people attending the ED. Of these, 88.4 per cent started treatment on time. A total of 426 elective surgeries were performed, down 3.4 per cent, or 15 less procedures, on the same quarter in 2019. 100 per cent of urgent, and 95.7 per cent of semi-urgent elective surgeries were performed on time.

The Tweed Hospital had 12,880 ED attendances in the October to December quarter, a drop of 7.4 per cent, or 1,036 presentations compared to the same quarter in 2019.

79.5 per cent of patients started their treatment on time, and 92.5 per cent of patients arriving by ambulance had their care transferred to ED clinicians within the target of 30 minutes. There were 999 elective surgeries performed, down 2.3 per cent, or 23, on the same quarter in 2019, with 87.9 per cent of all surgeries performed on time. 99.5 per cent of the 217 urgent elective surgeries were performed on time.



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