15 June 2022

Patients continued to receive high quality care and the majority of emergency department attendees were seen on time during the peak of the Omicron outbreak from January to March 2022 ­­- one of the most challenging quarters on record in NSW.

High numbers of COVID-19 cases state-wide presented serious challenges due to complex presentations and admissions to hospitals and many staff being unavailable due to being exposed to or contracting the virus in the community or at work.

NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce said the latest Bureau of Health Information (BHI) report highlights some of the impacts of this unprecedented period for the public health service.

"I want to thank all our staff throughout the state for their incredible efforts to keep the community safe and deliver high quality care during one of the most challenging periods of the pandemic. The work they have done – and continue to do – to care for the people of NSW is remarkable," Ms Pearce said.

During the first quarter of 2022, there were 734,704 attendances at NSW emergency departments (EDs). Despite significant pressures on the health system, the majority of ED patients (70.5 per cent) started treatment on time and almost eight in 10 patients (78.6 per cent) were transferred from ambulance to ED staff within the 30-minute benchmark.

"We acknowledge the Omicron COVID-19 outbreak had an impact on the timeliness of care provided in our hospitals and by NSW Ambulance during this most challenging of quarters," Ms Pearce said.

"We have never seen a period like it before, from the huge volume of COVID-19 cases to the thousands of furloughed staff, and I want to thank the community for their understanding and patience as we faced the many challenges that came our way. "

Ms Pearce said EDs across NSW remain under significant pressure due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases and now a surge in flu cases, which are also causing ongoing staff unavailability.

"Our local health districts are addressing these challenges in several ways, including increasing bed capacity in hospitals where possible; ensuring all available clinical staff are deployed to the care areas with the highest demand, and improving the timeliness of discharge for patients," Ms Pearce said.

Ms Pearce said patients in EDs are always triaged and seen according to the clinical urgency of their condition. During very busy times, those with less urgent conditions will experience longer wait times when there are large numbers of seriously unwell patients being prioritised for emergency care.

"We are asking the community to support us in our efforts to make sure those who need emergency medical care receive it as quickly as possible by saving ambulances and emergency departments for saving lives," Ms Pearce said.

"If an illness or injury is not life-threatening, we encourage people to visit their GP or call Healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222, which is a 24-hour telephone health advice line staffed by registered nurses to provide fast and simple expert advice on any health issue and what to do next."

In response to the Omicron outbreak, non-urgent elective surgery requiring an overnight stay was suspended from 10 January 2022 in public hospitals across NSW and resumed in a staged manner in February.

Despite this necessary pause, 38,493 elective surgeries were performed across the state and almost all urgent elective surgeries (99.1 per cent) were performed on time. Public hospitals also performed more than 20,000 emergency surgeries during the quarter, which are not included in the BHI report, but are often the most critical surgical procedures.

"We understand how upsetting it can be having a surgery delayed. NSW Health remains committed to ensuring those procedures that were delayed so that we had the capacity to respond to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are performed as soon as possible," Ms Pearce said.

Patients due to receive non-urgent elective surgery who have been impacted by the restrictions are encouraged to seek medical attention should they experience a change in their condition so they can be clinically reviewed and re-prioritised to a more urgent category if required.

In 2020-21 the NSW Government provided an extra $458.5 million to fast-track elective surgeries and $80 million was provided as part of the 2021-22 NSW Budget.

The NSW Government has committed more than $4 billion to the NSW health system to manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020.

A record 10,148 full-time equivalent staff will be recruited to hospitals and health services across NSW over four years, as part of the NSW Government's 2022-23 Budget. The $4.5 billion investment includes a $1.76 billion boost for NSW Ambulance to recruit 2,128 new staff and open 30 more stations.