Bad flu season put pressure on Hunter hospital emergency departments

Emergency: Considering John Hunter had a 6.4 per cent increase in the number of ED patients between July and September, BHI acting chief executive Dr Kim Sutherland said the hospital did well to still see 68.3 per cent of patients on time.
Emergency: Considering John Hunter had a 6.4 per cent increase in the number of ED patients between July and September, BHI acting chief executive Dr Kim Sutherland said the hospital did well to still see 68.3 per cent of patients on time.

A RECORD number of patients presented to the Hunter’s emergency departments during one of the worst flu seasons in years.

More than 110,000 people presented to an emergency department (ED) within the Hunter New England Lower Health District between July and September – an increase of 11.3 per cent compared to the same time in 2016.

It is the highest number of ED admissions recorded in the region since the Bureau of Health Information (BHI) began collecting data in 2010.

On Wednesday, the BHI released its latest Hospital Quarterly report, which showed the John Hunter Hospital had almost 20,700 patients attend its ED from July to September, 2017 – an increase of 6.4 per cent from the previous year.

The extra pressure was likely a contributing factor in a 10 per cent drop in the average number of patients leaving the ED within four hours.

The average time it took patients at John Hunter to leave the ED swelled by 33 minutes to three hours and 52 minutes. 

In 2016, 64.3 per cent of patients were leaving the John Hunter Hospital ED within four hours. In 2017, that dropped to 54.3 per cent.

“That was a larger decrease than we saw in most other hospitals in NSW, and certainly bigger than the NSW result overall . . . but 68.3 per cent of patient’s treatment started on time, so they did very well at the start,” BHI acting chief executive, Dr Kim Sutherland, said.

“We heard all the way through the quarter that it was busy and there was lots of flu, but the extent of busyness was unprecedented.”

Nine out of 10 patients left the John Hunter emergency department within eight hours and 49 minutes.

During the same quarter in 2016, 90 per cent of patients left within seven hours and 21 minutes.

“Winter quarters are generally the busiest we see across the year, but this was a very busy flu season, so overall, we saw this 9 per cent increase in the number of patients that presented to an emergency department compared to the same time last year,” Dr Sutherland said.

“That’s a huge increase from winter quarter to winter quarter.”

The report showed it was also a busy winter season for ambulance services in NSW.

Within Hunter Zone 1, there were more than 313,500 calls to the ambulance service, an increase of 9.2 per cent on 2016.