ACT public hospital emergency patients have longest wait in the country

Max O'Driscoll 6 November 2021 13
Canberra Hospital

The ACT’s public hospitals have the longest wait times on average in the country, according to the AMA. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT has the worst emergency room wait times in the country, according to the Australian Medical Association’s Report Card 2021.

The AMA found a mere 34 per cent of urgent emergency department patients were seen within 30 minutes in Canberra public hospitals. The national average is 67 per cent.

For a decade, the ACT has consistently been the worst performing jurisdiction in this category.

The ACT was also the worst-performing state or territory in emergency department visits completed in four hours or less, the second-worst for median elective wait times, and experienced a significant fall in the percentage of category 2 elective surgery patients admitted within 90 days, falling from 75.3 per cent last year to 64.1 per cent.

Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT Branch Matthew Daniel said the results represent a “sustained picture” of poor results over several years, which he finds frustrating given the amount of attention given by outside consultancies on these issues.

“What have those reports done to improve the situation? I’m not necessarily against these things being done by consultants, but if we continue to spend money on these sorts of things, then we need to see improvement,” he said.


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Nurse-to-patient ratios are scheduled to begin in February next year in the ACT and Mr Daniel believes these will improve patient outcomes.

“Short-staffing is a chronic problem, and I guess it would contribute in some way to performance results and certainly the patient experience,” said Mr Daniel.

Short-staffing is just one part of a system in need of revitalisation, he said. Other issues include rostering shortfalls and staff culture problems.

President of the Australian Medical Association (ACT), Professor Walter Abhayaratna, said that the ACT’s public hospitals are being placed “under immense pressure” despite a desire and willingness to do better.

“The ACT’s poor performance has been evident for a number of years, and it will take a number of years to turn it around. But we have to start somewhere and it has to start with a recognition of the problem and a desire to work together to fix it,” said Professor Abhayaratna.

The AMA supports increasing the Federal Government’s contribution in public hospital funding to 50 per cent, expanding capacity and incentivising performance targets.


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Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said that the emergency departments have seen what she described as “really significant increases” in users in the last two years, admitting that hospitals are stretched at present. She highlighted the $23 million funding set aside in the ACT budget for Canberra Hospital’s emergency department over the next four years.

“That’s more doctors, more nurses, more allied health professionals and, importantly, the establishment of an acute medical unit,” said Ms Stephen-Smith.

She said the ACT Government is currently pushing for an increase in Commonwealth investment for local hospitals.

Shadow Minister for Health Giulia Jones said Commonwealth funding for the ACT health system was at its highest levels since 2008-9, while ACT Government funding is at one of its lowest.

“This Labor-Greens Government blames everyone else for its own failures, but after 20 years, there is no one else to blame.

“The AMA rightly notes that the doctors, nurses and frontline healthcare workers — who have responded tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic — are frustrated by the Labor-Greens Government’s continued failures that make it harder and harder to provide the quality healthcare the community expects,” Ms Jones said.


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13 Responses to ACT public hospital emergency patients have longest wait in the country
Ian Ian 12:45 pm 08 Nov 21

After all these years with similar results, surely the root cause/s of the delays have been identified and choices have been made by government NOT to actually address them properly. If they haven’t figured out the problem yet, then that’s 20+ years of wrong ministers and wrong management. If they know the cause and have chosen not to fix it then its the wrong government we have.

dingus_maximus dingus_maximus 10:35 am 08 Nov 21

Yep imagine if they had even a fraction of funding provided for our red elephant tram rather than just 23mil they have set aside. They might have actually been able to improve services and wait times. Again I feel let down by this government, happening way to often these days, le sigh.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:02 pm 07 Nov 21

Yet another indicator of what is increasingly looking like a failing and fiscally unsustainable model of self-government in the ACT.

A_Cog A_Cog 5:17 pm 07 Nov 21

For every year I’ve lived in the ACT, this gub’mint have been the worst or second worst performers in healthcare and hospitals, and the ACT only has to operate one public hospital (don’t say Calvary Public coz that’s run by the nuns). Every other juro handles (many) more hospitals, and they do better than us. Time and again, I see the ACT incapable of doing the same things and running the same systems that other jurors run, and we’ve got it far easier. One jail, but worst recidivism and drug use in the nation. One hospital, and it’s a disaster. Best ICSEA cohort for school kids, but worst NAPLAN curve in the country. Worst police force, with the lowest rates of clearances nationwide. Our roads cost $11 million per lane kilometre, but other jurors do it for $3m.

There is not one area of service delivery, or policy, or government, that ACT Labor are any good at. Incompetence reigns.

Beth Gibson Beth Gibson 3:09 pm 07 Nov 21

So in what time frame are 67% of our emergency cases seen? If it's 35 minutes, that's not too bad, but if it's 60 minutes that's a real problem.

TheSilver TheSilver 2:25 pm 07 Nov 21

The Chief Minister needs to see the inside of the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

jorie1 jorie1 10:34 am 07 Nov 21

Worst hospital system in Australia, worst education system (used to be one of the best but now one of the worst), highest rents in Australia, highest land tax and rates…but wait, there is a toy tram (that only a small minority of Canberrans use). What a joke the ACT has become.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 9:51 am 07 Nov 21

Cant wait until all the 'I hate the light rail' comments start and they blame it for all the ills of the territory lol

Andrew Hopkins Andrew Hopkins 8:53 am 07 Nov 21

That's not new

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 7:14 pm 06 Nov 21

At least they can catch the light rail

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 2:41 pm 06 Nov 21

When we watch the British TV program “24 Hours in Emergency” we don’t see the 30 minute wait, before getting attention, that 70% of our urgent patients experience. What happened to Jon Stanhope’s 10 year plan for our hospitals? Was the money diverted to the tram?

    JC JC 5:57 am 09 Nov 21

    Watching a TV show is a tad different to reality. Having lived in the UK and had the miss fortune of going to A&E it was basically no different to going here.

    Oh as for money being diverted to light rail, think the budget figures show no money was diverted especially from health or education. Whilst the hospital system does indeed have its issues money isn’t one of them.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:00 pm 09 Nov 21

    I have yet to see anyone being taken to hospital after being “bagged” (look it up). The worst they let you see on that TV show is the misfortunes of drunks and CHAVS.

    To be fair, the dedication and care from the paramedics is commendable.

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