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NSW residents waiting longer than ever for ambulances



NSW ambulance response times are at their worst level in more than a decade, as almost 40 per cent of patients with life-threatening injuries wait more than the recommended time.

At the second highest level of urgency, things are even worse, with almost two thirds of "P1" patients waiting more than 15 minutes for emergency transport to hospital, the latest NSW health report card revealed on Wednesday.

The figures, from January to March this year, are influenced by increasing COVID-19 numbers — the 326,544 ambulance responses were 6.1 per cent more than pre-pandemic levels in 2019 — and represent the worst results since Bureau of Health Information tracking began in 2010.

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Across the P1 and P2 urgency categories, the average patient waited 15.7 and 27.5 minutes, respectively, also the worst since 2010.

Bureau of Health Information chief executive Dr Diane Watson said patients generally had longer waits for emergency department (ED) and ambulance services during the quarter.

"Demand for ambulance responses continued the steady upward trend seen over the past five years and patients waited longer for paramedics to arrive," she said.

In the state's emergency departments, results continued to improve slightly on levels seen in the corresponding period over the past few years, but were still well below target.

About 70 per cent of patients were seen on time, amid a "notable drop" in the number of patients admitted to hospital after going through the ED.

"Just a quarter of patients in ED requiring admission to hospital were admitted within four hours," said Watson. 

"And one in 10 spent longer than 18 hours and 29 minutes in the ED, up from 13 hours and 25 minutes in 2019."

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Non-urgent elective surgery needing an overnight stay was suspended from January 10 to February 7 and continued to fluctuate significantly throughout the reporting period.

The elective surgery waiting list is down from its mid-2020 peak but still counts more than 100,000 patients, with 18,627 having waited longer than clinically recommended.

One in 10 patients waited longer than 465 days for non-urgent surgery — longer than any quarter since 2010. 

NSW Health blamed much of the results on the Omicron wave of the pandemic, highlighting the impact on not just the number and complexity of patients being treated but also the impact on staffing.

"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," NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce said, in a statement.

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"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."

Pearce said the Omicron surge put emergency departments under "significant pressure" and patients in EDs were always triaged and seen according to the clinical urgency of their condition.

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