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Hospitals still failing to meet emergency deadlines

"People are waiting too long in emergency departments and we are struggling to meet demand" ... vice-president of the Australian Medical Association in NSW, Dr Saxon Smith.

"People are waiting too long in emergency departments and we are struggling to meet demand" ... vice-president of the Australian Medical Association in NSW, Dr Saxon Smith. Photo: John Donegan

THE state's hospitals have failed to meet their targets for emergency departments for the third quarter in a row, meaning NSW will lose out on millions of dollars in federal funding.

In the July to September quarter, only 59 per cent of patients were treated, transferred or discharged from emergency departments within four hours, data released by the Bureau of Health Information shows.

Under a national health reform agreement implemented in January, NSW was set a benchmark of treating or referring 69 per cent of patients from emergency departments within four hours to qualify for $15.9 million in federal funding.

The office of the state Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, confirmed that even if everybody admitted for the rest of the year completed their stay within the recommended time frame, the target could still not be met.

The loss of reward funding comes after the state government announced in September that local health districts would be forced to cut $775 million from the health budget over four years.

The bureau data showed doctors treated an extra 21,000 emergency patients in the last quarter, with the greatest increase seen in patients with imminently life threatening conditions. But the number of patients requiring less urgent medical attention was 63,602, a drop of 14 per cent from the same time last year.

The vice-president of the Australian Medical Association in NSW, Saxon Smith, said it showed people were seeking out the appropriate type of care when they were sick or injured.

''This signals to me that the public are playing their part in improving waiting times by accessing the appropriate service, such as their GPs, when situations are not life-threatening'' Dr Smith said. ''But people are waiting too long in emergency departments and we are struggling to meet demand.''

The bureau also reported on the number on the elective surgery waiting list, with Mrs Skinner praising hospitals for meeting recommended times across all surgeries for the first time.

But the NSW president for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Sally McCarthy, said it was no good pointing out positives in elective surgery times when the state was failing to meet emergency targets.

''We are focusing on one area at the expense of the other,'' Dr McCarthy said.

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