A shortage of doctors in the region is at least partly behind a substantial jump in the number of patients visiting Wagga Base Hospital's emergency department, according to a campaigner.
New figures from the Bureau of Health Information show a 10.2 per cent jump in the number of people who visited the emergency department between July and September 2019, compared to the same period last year.
In 2018, there were 11,108 patients in the emergency department over that three-month period, 1132 less than the 12,240 recorded in 2019.
Across NSW, patient demand for public hospitals was higher in July to September 2019 than any previous quarter, the latest BHI Healthcare Quarterly shows.
The quarter saw the highest numbers of emergency department presentations, elective surgical procedures performed and admitted patient episodes since BHI began reporting these data in 2010.
There were more than 760,000 emergency department presentations across the state - an increase of 6.6% compared with the same quarter last year.
The July to September quarter also saw the bulk of the cases in what was described by Mumbidgee's director of public health as "pretty much" the region's worst-ever flu season.
However, Christine Webb, secretary of the Tumut Community Association, believes part of the reason Wagga Base's emergency department figures continue to climb is because a shortage of doctors in smaller hospitals mean patients are being transferred to larger facilities.
"It's been said many times before, but that would be a big part of causing the increases," Ms Webb said.
"The patients from Tumut are going over there and they are sitting and waiting hours to be seen.
"For patients from Tumut and other small towns, first of all they get to the hospital and there's a delay there. There's a delay in getting them to Wagga and then there's a further delay in them being seen once they get there.
"The impact from the small hospitals on Wagga is huge.
"In many cases, it's for small things that should be able to be done at Tumut or the other smaller hospitals, but because there's no doctor, people are unnecessarily going to Wagga and often its by ambulance."
At Wagga Base over the July-September 2019 period, arrivals by ambulance were up by 122 from 2816 in 2019 to 2938 this year.
Like Ms Webb, regional paramedic John Larter believes the lack of doctors in smaller hospitals is putting pressure on Wagga Base.
"Those patients have to go somewhere when there isn't a doctor at their local hospital," he said.
BHI chief executive Diane Watson said emergency department activity continued on an upward trend, eclipsing the previous highest number experienced in January to March 2019. Across NSW, presentations have exceeded 750,000 every quarter since the beginning of the year.
"Over the course of a year, the number of people presenting to EDs each quarter tends to show peaks and troughs, with the winter quarter generally the busiest," Dr Watson said.