As another wave of COVID sweeps through the community, its impact is being felt at Ballarat Base Hospital with clinical staff back to wearing N-95 masks and the emergency department bearing the brunt with increased wait times and difficulties transferring patients.
At the peak of the wave about three weeks ago, there were 30 COVID positive patients being treated in hospital but as of Friday that number had reduced to 10.
Several times in recent weeks the hospital has put out social media notifications alerting patients to long wait times in the emergency department and urging them to go elsewhere if possible.
Across Victoria last week there was an average of 317 people hospitalised with COVID each day, five fewer than the previous week.
Grampians Health chief operating officer hospitals Ben Kelly said improvements in ED waiting times for the July to September quarter, released this month in the Victorian Agency for Health Information's quarterly Victorian Health Services report, had been eroded as COVID impacted the community.
Mr Kelly said greater demand for isolation rooms and the inability to have people cared for by common nurses had restricted flexibility and increased wait times.
"We've had challenges around COVID at the QE Centre and those patients being transferred back because of complex needs and not us necessarily being able to send people there because of COVID status or complications," Mr Kelly said.
"It remains a difficult environment but our staff are dedicated to provide the highest quality of care and quality outcomes."
The quarterly hospital performance data for July, August and September showed a reduction in emergency department wait times following the opening in July of a new 10-bed emergency ambulatory care section of the ED to treat patients with less severe injuries and illness who will not need hospital admission.
All category one patients were treated immediately during July, August and September with category two and three patients now waiting an average of 30 minutes, compared to 38 minutes a year ago. Category four patients waited an average of 47 minutes, almost 20 minutes less than the same period in 2022.
But almost 60 per cent of category two patients still waited longer than the recommended 10 minutes during the July to September 2023, compared to 69 per cent last year. For category three patients, 38.86 per cent were treated within 30 minutes compared to 31.52 for the same time last year, and treatment times also improved for category four and five patients.
"The new expanded emergency department has delivered a reduction in wait times but ... they are not where we want them to be," Mr Kelly said.
"We want them to be shorter, but the additional 10 spaces have made some difference to waiting times and we are really trying to make sure those people who have relatively low complexity needs are seen in that envelope and able to leave fairly quickly."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.