Upgrading work in local hospitals is expected to help handle the ever-rising demand for services.

Emergency departments in Northern Rivers hospitals “welcomed increasing numbers of patients” in the latest recorded quarter (Jan-March), to use the words of Northern NSW Local Health District CEO Wayne Jones, with the rise in local demand registering well above the NSW average.

Three local hospitals topped the demand growth, led by the relatively new Byron Central Hospital, which recorded an 8.9 per cent increase in presentations, followed by Ballina District Hospital with an 8.2 per cent increase. LBH recorded a 6.8 per cent rise in presentations.

The average increase in emergency department presentations across the whole NNSW LHD (Tweed to the Clarence) was 3.1 per cent increase, still well in excess of the statewide rise of 1.6 per cent for the equivalent quarter in 2017, according to the latest Bureau of Health Information Report.

Statistics showed that 82.5 per cent of patients in NNSW LHD hospitals left the ED via admission or discharge within four hours of presentation. While this was an improved performance on last year, it was considerably longer than the median time that patients spent in NSW EDs generally - two hours and 42 minutes.

Some 93 per cent of NSW patients were found to have come in by ambulance.

“Overall, 81.3 per cent of patients started treatment on time, up from 78.9 per cent for the same time last year,” according to CEO Wayne Jones.

“Northern NSW hospitals welcomed increasing numbers of patients through our doors during January to March, and it’s a testament to the skills and commitment of our staff that they continue to deliver high levels of patient care for people in our communities,” he said.

Predicting that health care needs would “increase in the coming years,” Mr Jones expected capital works/infrastructure projects to assist with handling demand. These include the $320 million redevelopment of Lismore Base Hospital and the $7.35 million upgrade at Ballina District Hospital.

Mr Jones said while urgent presentations to EDs have declined, there are still patients coming to hospital emergency departments for non-emergency reasons. He suggested they could receive treatment more appropriately by accessing services such as their General Practitioner or local pharmacy.

Regarding elective surgery Mr Jones said 3.3 per cent more procedures were performed over the quarter compared to the same period last year. The timeliness of performance also remained strong, with 97 per cent of patients receiving their elective surgery in accordance with benchmark times.