Despite near-record spending on public health infrastructure in New South Wales, our public health system remains perilously ill-equipped to deliver 21st century health services to Sydney’s rising population.

Alarmingly, the true magnitude of the problem only became apparent when, on 16 January 2017, Nepean Hospital’s emergency department reached capacity prompting NSW Health to take the hospital “off the matrix”, the system which directs NSW ambulances to the nearest, most clinically appropriate emergency department.

At one stage during the period in which Nepean Hospital was “off the matrix”, an ambulance transporting a patient who had experienced a severe cardiac event was directed to leave Nepean Hospital and to convey the patient to Westmead Hospital some 30 kilometres away. Fortunately, after pleading with hospital staff, paramedics were able to convince staff at Nepean Hospital to accept the patient on account of the life-threatening nature of his condition.

In the context of an emergency situation, every minute counts. When a person requires an Ambulance, there should be no doubt that their nearest hospital will accept them. Moreover, as a minimum there should be adequate staffing numbers and availability of beds to ensure that appropriate treatment can be administered on an urgent basis.

Fortunately, it would appear that Nepean Hospital’s time “off the matrix” did not result in any adverse medical outcomes or causes of medical negligence. The incident is, however, indicative of the systemic problems affecting the NSW public health system. While Nepean Hospital has pointed to a “combination of sicker patients presenting to the ED” and an absence of available beds to transfer patients who had already been admitted, the inability of NSW hospitals to meet the demands of a growing population can only be expected to worsen as health budgets are tightened.

While the magnitude of this event is unusual, it has been apparent for some time that the public hospital system is stretched beyond its limits. Unfortunately, we all too often see cases where patients sustain avoidable injury or meet an unnecessary death due to, for instance, an absence of available hospital beds, an unavailability of surgeons to undertake emergency surgery or a shortage of suitably qualified hospital staff to provide necessary assessment and routine monitoring of patients.

Turn, to Turner Freeman

At Turner Freeman we have lawyers who specialise in medical negligence claims. If you or someone you know has suffered as a consequence of a delay in treatment or an inability to access proper care, we encourage you to call 13 43 63 to speak with one of our medical law experts today. Time is of the essence so please avoid delaying your enquiry with our medical negligence specialists.