This winter a number of New Zealand hospitals reached capacity including Middlemore, which in August put up a “hospital full” sign in its ED and Waikato Hospital cancelling elective surgery to cope with the overflow of patients.

Statistics released today by New South Wales’ Bureau of Health Information showed that more than 720,000 patients presented to a NSW public hospital emergency department between July to September – the highest number ever recorded by BHI and 9.4% higher than the same quarter last year.

Dr Kim Sutherland, acting chief executive of the NSW Bureau, said the increase in ED activity was evident throughout the state and followed one of the worst flu seasons the state had experienced in recent years.

“Winter is typically the busiest quarter for NSW public hospitals, but this winter season was particularly busy for emergency departments throughout the state,” Dr Sutherland said.

The last National Influenza Centre intelligence report for the New Zealand flu season (covering the week up to October 1 2017) said that although influenza-like illness (ILI) presentations were overall up around the country during the 2016 season they were still below the average seasonal rate. It added that flu-associated severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) hospitalisations were high this year though slightly lower than the known high years of 2012 and 2014. “However, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions were low or comparable to these years,” said the New Zealand ‘flu intelligence report.

The NSW Bureau’s winter quarterly report said ED treatment started within clinically recommended times for 70.0% of its public hospital ED patients, 3.6 percentage points lower than the same quarter last year. (For NSW EDs the clinically recommended times between ED triage and clinical assessment/treatment are: Triage 1 [100% seen immediately], Triage 3 [75% seen within 30 minutes] and Triage 5 [70% seen within two hours].)

The total time spent in NSW emergency departments was less than four hours for 68.4% of patients, down 3.3 percentage points. (New Zealand district health boards “shorter stay in ED” health target results are not yet available for the winter quarter.)
“While the report shows decreases of between three and four percentage points in emergency department timeliness measures, there were increases of between nine and 10 per cent in the number of patients presenting to – and arriving by ambulance at – emergency departments,” Sutherland said of the NSW statistics.

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