An increasing number of patients are presenting at Wagga Base Hospital's emergency department with complaints that could have been treated by general practitioners.
This year's data for January to March, released by the Bureau of Health Information, show the number of patients seeking treatment at Wagga Base Hospital's emergency department for non-urgent conditions rose by more than 15 per cent to 1411.
The most recent figures, which are compared to the same quarter last year, cover the summer bushfire crisis when a large swathe of the Riverina was affected by bushfires and resulting clouds of smoke, as well as the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, Wagga Base Hospital saw an overall decrease in emergency department presentations, which were down 0.9 per cent to 11,381.
Hospitals across NSW recorded a significant combined increase of 27 per cent in non-urgent presentations in triage category five.
This category includes people with minor illnesses or symptoms which have been present for more than a week, such as rashes or minor aches and pains.
MLHD chief executive Jill Ludford said local emergency departments were put under pressure by these presentations.
"It is a problem for our emergency departments people coming in with GP-like conditions or requesting medical certificates," Ms Ludford said.
"Our message to people is please use your general practice for primary care because emergency departments are there to look after people who are critically ill."
Ms Ludford said Wagga Base Hospital remained the primary after hours health care provider for the region.
"We encourage people who are sick at any time to come and see us. We're there as a safety net for our community," she said.
Wagga MP Joe McGirr said the small shift to less urgent presentations could be due to "several contributing factors".
"This was a time covered by the bushfires in our region and I wonder whether we had fewer people visiting the region," Dr McGirr said.
"A number of people were evacuated to Wagga, about 1000 people came through the evacuation centre and I wonder whether the increase in the non-urgent might be people who were seeking assistance with a general practice condition who had been evacuated from where their GP usually was."
The January to March figures show a significant proportion of patients at Wagga Base Hospital's emergency department started their treatment in the emergency department on time, up 8.4 percentage points to 88 per cent. This was well above the state average of 62.4 per cent.