Ambulance transfer delays get worse

EDITORIAL: Tackling hospital delays

AMBULANCES are waiting more than half an hour to transfer patients at the John Hunter Hospital, as part of increasing delays across the state that meant crews wasted more than 84,000 hours, instead of responding to emergencies.

The figures, from NSW Auditor General Peter Achterstraat’s latest report, equate to nearly a decade that ambulance crews waited to offload patients in 2011-12, with one-in-three ambulances in NSW delayed by more than half an hour because of access block.

The state government announced yesterday it would make a number of changes, including a move to have the private sector or health districts take over the transport of non-urgent patients, and triple-0 operators would refer calls that were not emergencies to a health triage and advice line.

It would also expand the use of single paramedics to respond to less seriously ill patients, and ambulance crews would transfer less critical patients to a registered nurse at emergency department waiting rooms.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the reforms would free up resources to respond to emergencies.

In his report, Mr Achterstraat said delays to ambulance crews transferring patients totalled 84,680 hours in 2011-12, up from 78,224 the year before and 58,399 the previous year.

‘‘The longer ambulance crews are at hospitals, the less time they are available to respond to the next emergency,’’ he said.

Gosford Hospital was the worst performer, with average delays of about 42 minutes, compared to the state average of 30 minutes.

John Hunter Hospital delays were about 36 minutes, up from about 32 minutes in 2010-11.

Ms Skinner said the government had commissioned an independent review of the ambulance service, and was acting on the recommendations.

But Labor said the government had not spelt out the details of the changes, and was meanwhile forcing the Health Department to find savings of $3billion.

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