Which state has worst healthcare?

A new report into the nation’s health systems has shown NSW lagging behind other states in terms of hospital queues for elective surgery and radiotherapy.

That state’s citizens are also more likely to clog up hospital emergency departments with non-urgent visits than in other states.

Compared with the national average of 75 days, NSW patients were made to wait 211 days for eye surgery, including cataract operations, according to the Bureau of Health Information’s latest Healthcare in Focus study.

The review of 2015-2016 statistics showed that people living in NSW had to wait twice as long for orthopaedic surgery, about 120 days, compared with the rest of the nation.

NSW and Queensland patients requiring radiotherapy waited more than a month for the service, followed by 27 days for Victorians and Tasmanians, and just 14 days in the Northern Territory.

The study also compared NSW queues for hip and knee replacements with those in other developed countries, including the US and the UK, and found that the state made people wait longer for these procedures – between 207 and 291 days.

NSW hospitals also recorded higher rates of post-operative blood clots and sepsis than in many other countries. Clots often result from hip and knee surgery.

Proportionally, people in NSW were more likely to visit their GP than those from other states. But the margin is slim with Victorians not far behind, followed by Queenslanders and South Australians. Fewer West Australians as a proportion of that state’s population visited their GPs.

Of the big states, NSW had more patients per 100,000 arriving at hospital emergency departments for non-urgent treatment. West Australians used ambulances the least for non-urgent trips, followed by Victorians, South Australians and Queenslanders.

And while those living in NSW use emergency departments and visit GPs relatively more than in other states, they spend less time being treated before discharge from emergency departments and the admission costs more.

The median amount of time spent in emergency around the nation ranged from 121 minutes in NSW to 150 minutes in South Australia.

The average cost of an emergency visit was more expensive in NSW ($1116) than in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, which had the cheapest cost of $857.

On balance, patients in NSW had a better chance of surviving a cardiac arrest after resuscitation was performed in hospital (32 per cent) than those in other states, but they were more likely to contract golden staph.

In relation to falls during hospitalisation, NSW patients were more likely to trip up, with 5.6 falls per 1000 visits, than those in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, where only 3.6 out of 1000 admissions ended in a fall.

Opinion: All Australian lives matter

The latest Bureau of Health Information report is an eye-opener into the disparity of healthcare among the nation’s largest states.

Rich in statistical analysis across many forms of medical care and procedures, it provides the basis for a fair question: Why do healthcare outcomes vary so much around Australia? Surely all Australian lives matter.

The evidence shows that if you live in NSW and require medical or hospital attention you are likely to fare worse than if you live in a less populous, less wealthy state.

There is one exception to this generalisation, however. If you are unlucky to suffer a cardiac arrest in NSW, you are more likely to survive after resuscitation than if you live elsewhere.

But this advantage does have costs. NSW patients are more likely to fall in hospital, contract sepsis and golden staph, suffer a blood clot after hip replacement surgery and wait longer for elective surgery.

What is going on in NSW? Could it be that it is the most hypochondriac state? Is its  healthcare system bogged down by its citizens seeking out urgent hospitalisation when they don’t need it? At least, that is what the data analysis reveals. As a proportion of the population, more people in NSW use an ambulance to catch a ride to hospital for non-urgent conditions.

That could be fixed with a couple of education campaigns. One to train those dispensing ambos to better assess whether an emergency vehicle is warranted to take a caller to hospital or some other type of transport. Citizens also need to hear the message that they should not be ambulance hogs and if they are not in an urgent, life-threatening situation, they should request non-emergency transport.

However, regardless of their attitudes to accessing emergency treatment, one thing is certain. NSW patients are entitled to the same level of quality hospitalisation as the rest of the nation. Its population should be asking why their government is not benchmarking itself against the best-practice standards elsewhere, from waiting times for surgery, patient falls and cross-infection measures in hospital, to length and cost of admission.

Have you had a bad hospital experience? How often do you visit your GP? How long did you have to wait for surgery?

Related articles:
Do you need an ambulance?
Cost of hip replacement
Public wait lists extended

Written by Olga Galacho

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