Minns Labor Sets Taskforce to Reduce Illawarra ED Wait Times

The ED Taskforce comes off the back of the success of the Surgical Care Taskforce - established on the Health Minister's first day in office - which has seen overdue surgeries more than halved.

The ED Taskforce will comprise of health workers and NSW Health officials, from across the state's various local health districts and specialty networks, including from regional communities.

It will be tasked with identifying and implementing efficiencies, including initiatives to reduce unnecessary presentations; address bed block and improve patient flow; safely discharge patients more quickly; improve the experience of patients and staff in the ED; and move patients to parts of the system with more capacity where clinically appropriate.

The Minister for Health has instructed NSW Health to draft terms of reference; appoint membership of the taskforce; and set a first meeting date.

It comes after the release of the latest Bureau of Health Information (BHI) quarterly results.

The latest BHI data the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District for the September quarter shows:

  • triage 2 category (emergency) presentations at 5,722; and
  • a 63 per cent reduction in the number of overdue surgeries compared to September 2022 (1019 to 369).

A significant factor in the record demand on hospitals are the proportion of cases that could be treated in primary or aged care settings.

Almost half of all presentations to EDs were either category 4 (e.g. sprained ankle, earache) or category 5 (e.g. small cuts or abrasions).

A further BHI report on patient experiences in small rural hospitals shows that 45 per cent of patients felt they could have been treated by a GP or other health professional.

This will remain a focus of the ED Taskforce.

The NSW Government is also embracing a suite of innovative initiatives to divert unnecessary presentations to hospitals and relieve pressure on GPs.

This includes rolling out 25 urgent care services across the state; empowering pharmacists to prescribe certain medications; increasing the use of virtual care; and making it easier for doctors in regional health districts to work in both GP and hospital settings.

The District's hospitals continue to optimise available theatre time for planned surgery, as well as focusing on innovative models of care that enable more patients to receive their surgery sooner. This includes maximising opportunities for day only surgery, as well as additional support being provided by the District's Virtual Hospital Ward for appropriate post-operative care of patients.

ISLHD has implemented a range of initiatives to ensure patients receive the appropriate care in the right settings, including increasing utilisation of Emergency Short Stay Assessment Units, developing alternate emergency department pathways for patients who do not require admission and reducing length of stay for patients who can safely continue their care at home through Hospital in the Home and virtual care.

Last month's opening of Transitional Aged Care Program (TACP) beds at Figtree is also seeing positive results, enabling the safe discharge of patients out of hospital to another care facility, while they wait for a residential aged care place to become available.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Health, Ryan Park:

"This Emergency Department Taskforce is the latest initiative in our suite of measures to improve wait times and access to care, including supporting and boosting our workforce; and embracing innovating initiatives to divert pressure from our hospitals.

"We won't undo 12 years of underinvestment in our health system overnight, but I can assure staff and the community that seismic structural reforms are underway to turn things around.

"Patients just want to receive the care they need and deserve in a timely manner.

"I'm proud of our local healthcare workers in the Illawarra who have faced serious challenges over the past couple of years but continue to show professionalism amidst record presentations and demand on our health system."

Quotes attributable to Member for Wollongong Paul Scully:

"Wollongong Hospital experiences among the greatest demand on its emergency departments.

"With population growth and an ageing population, there are daily pressures on resources and staff every day.

"The pressures on Wollongong Hospital have not occurred overnight but have been building for years.

"Patients, staff and the community will benefit from the work of the Emergency Department Taskforce as it works to improve wait times and access to care."

Quotes attributable to Member for Shellharbour Anna Watson:

"Improving wait times at Shellharbour Hospital ED, whilst maintaining high levels of care, is of critical importance to the Shellharbour community.

"The Minns Labor Government is getting on with the job of reforming our hospital ED's after more than a decade of neglect under the previous Government."

Quotes attributable to Member for South Coast Liza Butler:

"This Emergency Department Taskforce is great news for the South Coast.

"Over many years we have seen waiting times blow out in our local hospitals and I am proud to see the Minns Government committed to addressing this major issue for our community.

"As a member of the Select Committee on Rural, Regional and Remote Health, this is something we have been working hard to address."

Quotes attributable to Member for Heathcote Maryanne Stuart:

"The NSW Minns Government is determined to put the emergency back into emergency departments.

"Thank you to all healthcare workers for their dedication and commitment whilst working under such difficult conditions."

Quotes attributable to Labor spokesperson for Kiama Sarah Kaine MLC:

"We're committed to making sure we support the efforts of these workers by improving emergency department waiting times and the hospital experience for both workers and patients.

"Our healthcare workers from the Kiama electorate work incredibly hard to ensure that patients receive the care they need, but they have had to contend with 12 years of Liberal-National neglect that has left our hospital emergency departments overwhelmed and underfunded."

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