THE amount of time ambulance officers are being forced to wait to transfer patients into hospital care has blown out in the past year, reducing their ability to respond to emergencies, the NSW Auditor-General has found.

In his financial audit of the state’s health sector, Peter Achterstraat said it was ‘‘concerning’’ that ambulance officers had spent 77,200 hours in 2010 waiting at emergency departments excluding an initial 30 minutes allowed for each admission, which was up from 58,400 extra hours the previous year.

To read the Herald’s opinion, click here.

The report released yesterday also found only 66per cent of patients were moved within eight hours from the emergency department to an inpatient bed.

‘‘This is significantly down on last year’s 73per cent and well below the 80per cent target,’’ Mr Achterstraat said.

He also recommended processes for paying health suppliers and employees need to improve, as some payments had been made without approval.

Overtime payments across the health sector had steadily declined, but there were still more than 1200 employees who worked more than 500 hours overtime in the year, with one employee paid $333,073 in overtime alone, the report said.

The report gave the Hunter New England Local Health Network a clean bill of health.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner said delays for ambulance officers would take time to resolve.