NSW hospitals could be overwhelmed: AMA

Gus McCubbing
Non-urgent NSW hospital emergency department attendances have grown 27 per cent

NSW hospitals are grappling with an unsustainable demand for care, according to the Australian Medical Association.

The Bureau of Health Information on Wednesday revealed there were 764,658 emergency department attendances from January to March this year, an increase of 1.1 per cent on the same period last year.

The report also found non-urgent emergency department attendances grew 27 per cent over the quarter with 90,271 presentations.

AMA NSW president Danielle McMullen said it was the fifth quarter in a row in which NSW hospitals treated more than 750,000 patients in emergency.

"Our hospitals are not built to deal with this kind of demand and there aren't enough staff for this to be sustainable," Dr McMullen said in a statement.

"Before the pandemic, it was having a deleterious effect on patient wait times in emergency as well as hospital staff's wellbeing.

"This is what happens when, in less than 10 years, demand increases by more than 40 per cent without a similar increase in funding, staffing, and infrastructure."

Dr McMullen warned of a growing backlog of patients needing non-urgent surgery, with BHI data showing 50,810 elective surgical procedures were performed from January to March, down 4.4 per cent from the same quarter last year.

Some 93.9 per cent of elective surgeries - including urgent, semi-urgent and non-urgent - were performed within recommended time frames in the latest quarter, down 2.5 per cent.

"Our wait times are some of the longest in the country and it's because our hospitals lack the capacity to get through the demand," Dr McMullen said.

Australia's national cabinet in March announced all non-urgent elective surgery would be temporarily suspended.

The NSW government on Tuesday pledged an extra $388 million to fast-track elective surgeries which were delayed as a result of the national cabinet decision.

NSW Health deputy secretary Susan Pearce said surgical activity across the public sector was on track to surpass 75 per cent of full capacity by the end of June.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to elective surgery and we appreciate the patience of all our patients as we navigate these unprecedented times," Ms Pearce said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Public and private hospital systems will be utilised as we work to redress the impact of the cessation of some elective surgery procedures earlier this year."