More than one in four elective surgeries were not performed on time within the Illawarra and Shoalhaven in the last quarter new figures reveal.
More than 3500 elective procedures were carried out from July to September according to the Bureau of Health Information's latest Hospital Quarterly report.
While 99.9 per cent of urgent surgeries were carried out within clinically recommended timeframes, across all categories only 28.2 per cent were done on time.
Median wait times for non-urgent elective surgery blew out to 359 days; and one in 10 non-urgent patients waited 483 days.
Meantime the number of patients waiting for elective surgery at the end of the quarter across the district increased by 1182 to 7507, an 18.7 per cent rise.
Labor's health spokesman Ryan Park said the latest snapshot of hospital performance comes just two days before submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into rural and regional health in NSW close.
He urged the region's health professionals and residents to speak up ahead of public hearings next year.
"These figures are a result of a decade of neglect and under resourcing. Quarter after quarter, we have seen blowouts and backlogs. It has to stop. Health outcomes should not be determined by postcodes," Mr Park said.
At Wollongong Hospital, more than 1800 elective procedures were carried out - while 3025 patients remained waiting at the end of September.
Wollongong Hospital also recorded the longest median wait-time (four hours and three minutes) in all of the state's emergency departments. Over half of patients spent over four hours in the ED.
Wollongong MP Paul Scully said the NSW Government could not put the blame solely on the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These figures aren't just numbers on a spreadsheet, they are people who are waiting for hip or knee replacements, eye surgery or in Wollongong Hospital's emergency department for hours at a time," he said. "... this is pressure that has built at Wollongong Hospital under this government."
At Shellharbour Hospital, just 936 elective surgeries were performed, with more than 2200 left waiting for operations. Around one third of those presenting to the ED left within the four-hour benchmark.
Shellharbour MP Anna Watson said the government needed to urgently address the elective surgery backlog.
"Even when the new Shellhabour Hospital is built, it will still take years to alleviate pressure on the local public health system, which is already struggling to cope with the region's booming population."
At Shoalhaven Hospital, four out of 10 people waited in the ED for longer than four hours in the three months. At that hospital, just 802 elective surgeries took place, and over 2250 patients remained waiting.
However ISLHD Executive Director Clinical Margaret Martin defended the performance of the district's hospitals over the quarter.
"This report covers an unprecedented time in the delivery of healthcare, with COVID-19 impacting on key health measures, caution is advised when comparing the results of this report with any previous quarters," she said..
"While overall emergency department attendances continued to return closer to pre-COVID levels, up to 39,030, they were still lower than the corresponding quarter in 2019, down by 7.6 per cent, or 3194 presentations.
"During the July to September quarter, the district made significant progress in returning to normal surgery activity levels following the Federal Government's suspension of non-urgent elective surgery in March and subsequent incremental resumption over the past few months.
"As a result, while waiting times for elective surgery are still higher than average, the number of procedures performed continues to steadily increase."
Ms Martin said the district had focused on booking in surgeries for those patients whose procedures were delayed by COVID-19. They had been supported by an additional $13 million provided as part of the NSW Government's $458.5 million statewide investment to increase elective surgeries.
Under this program, ISLHD had engaged five private providers to carry out elective procedures. This work has already started, with a focus on increasing the number of elective joint replacements, ear, nose and throat urology and endoscopy procedures.
She said Wollongong Hospital's ED had made some gains, with 82.5 per cent of patients starting treatment on time, up from 69.1 per cent in the same quarter last year and above the NSW result of 78.9 per cent.
Patients starting treatment on time at Shellharbour Hospital improved 12.2 percentage points on the 2019 quarter, up to 76.8 per cent.
Meanwhile Ms Martin said reconfigurations made to Shoalhaven Hospital's ED to meet the demands of COVID-19 had impacted internal patient flow within the hospital.
"Works to create a dedicated COVID assessment zone are anticipated to be completed by the end of the year which will improve performance times for access and flow in the ED," she said.
Waits lists at Shoalhaven were also impacted by some vacant anaesthetist and theatre nurse positions, with recruitment to fill these positions an ongoing priority for the hospital.
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