Canberra still has the longest emergency waiting times in Australia

Dominic Giannini 17 December 2020 41

New data from ACT Health shows an increase in the number of people who were not seen on time in the emergency department. Photo: File.

Only 56 per cent of patients who went to the emergency department were treated on time between July and September, and more than 40 per cent spent more than four hours waiting, new ACT Health data shows.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) also found that Canberra still has the longest waiting times in the country, with more than 50 per cent of patients not being seen on time throughout 2019-20.

The ACT is well below the national average of almost 75 per cent, and the next poorest-performing jurisdictions – South Australia and Tasmania – which scored 65 per cent.

Most Canberrans who visited the emergency department in 2019-20 spent almost nine hours there before being sent home or admitted, an increase on the previous year. They also had the longest median wait time of 44 minutes to see a doctor, more than double the national average of 17 minutes.

The median time Canberrans spent in emergency departments also increased between 2018-19 and 2019-20 to more than three-and-a-half hours despite a decrease of more than 8,000 presentations – largely due to the pandemic.

There was a 20 per cent spike in admissions and a 16 per cent jump in ambulance arrivals in the July quarter as COVID-19 restrictions eased from the previous quarter, resulting in longer waiting times.

ED presentations are now at their pre-COVID levels while elective surgeries increased slightly from the same quarter last year.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has lauded the professionalism of health workers during the pandemic. Photo: Region Media.

But the elective surgery waiting list blew out by 4,300 people after surgeries returned to normal on 30 June following restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

There are now more than 1,000 overdue patients waiting for elective surgeries, 300 less than the previous quarter.

The current waitlist has also decreased from 5,633 people last quarter to 5,341.

The ACT Government has committed an extra $30 million to help clear the elective surgery backlog and pledged during the recent election campaign to increase the number of elective surgeries to 16,000 in 2020-21.

Close to 4,000 elective surgeries were performed this quarter, which is almost 4 per cent more than the same quarter in 2019-20.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith admitted that there was work to do to reduce waiting times but lauded the hard work of health workers throughout the pandemic.

“Despite the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on clinical operations, we have again seen incredibly high levels of patient satisfaction across both public hospitals in this report. This is a testament to our dedicated healthcare staff,” she said.

“Throughout this quarter, our health services worked to recover from the suspension of non-urgent elective surgeries between March and June 2020, which led to an increase in patients waiting for elective surgery and in the number who were overdue.”

The ACT Government also pledged to build five walk-in centres across the city between 2021-22 and the middle of the decade. The community care model will aim to treat people with chronic illnesses and minor injuries.

Almost 80 per cent of presentations to the current walk-in centres are able to be treated onsite.

Work is also being undertaken to improve the performance and patient flow through EDs, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“At Canberra Hospital, this includes direct admission into wards and discharging patients to other care pathways when appropriate,” she said.

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41 Responses to Canberra still has the longest emergency waiting times in Australia
drewbytes drewbytes 6:54 am 19 Dec 20

I’ve had nothing but good experiences with ED. I’ve been there 4 times for EMERGENCIES with myself and the kids. Each time we’ve got in immediately to see a doctor – no waiting. IMO the problem is people going when it’s not an emergency, something which they could wait and go see their GP about. My experience is if you have something serious, you’ll get treatment very promptly.

Tristyn Mulqueeney Tristyn Mulqueeney 10:06 pm 18 Dec 20

What is deemed as "on time"? And WHO dictates that 'time' period?

Nicole McGuire Nicole McGuire 9:34 pm 18 Dec 20

The govt is so complacent. Keep getting voted back in regardless

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:34 pm 18 Dec 20

In a media appearance yesterday on this subject, the Health Minister said that the ACT is a small jurisdiction and that a significant proportion of people who use the ACT health system live in surrounding NSW.

Both statements are, of course, true but are nothing new, so they don’t really justify chronic problems with our health system.

The rapidly growing population in surrounding NSW (which the ACT Government dismissed as an issue in the recent election campaign), might be a factor, but that should be brought to account in negotiations with the NSW Government over funding for cross-border servicing – based on robust data about caseload and casemix (the adequacy, or otherwise, of such data from the ACT may be a real problem here).

Jonno Bazza Jonno Bazza 4:23 pm 18 Dec 20

That is bad but what is worse is if you are admitted for a mental disorder or similar, prepare to wait a lot longer. :(

Zakzook Chico Zakzook Chico 3:13 pm 18 Dec 20

But we have a tram!

    Zakzook Chico Zakzook Chico 5:36 pm 18 Dec 20

    Lynn Stape priority is the word but hey each to their own

Karen Feng Karen Feng 2:38 pm 18 Dec 20

Alot of our ailments like deep cut, diarrhoea, broken foot etc can be handle by experience nurses.

Why not have a seperate section/line for those?

And another line for more serious matter like babies with extreme high fever, heart rate beating irregularly, gunshot wound etc.

mitch82 mitch82 1:36 pm 18 Dec 20

The only consolation in all this is that hopefully people that voted for this incompetent excuse for a government have to spend hours waiting as a direct result of their “progressive” choice.


pink little birdie pink little birdie 12:15 pm 18 Dec 20

The lack of beds to send people to issue.
I gave birth in June last year not only was I not on the postnatal ward but the hospital had no free beds. To make matters worse I was in a shared room and the woman I was sharing with had a c-section.
More beds across everywhere is needed and absolutely no shared rooms in maternity especially as there’s no well baby nursery

Archie Mac Archie Mac 11:23 am 18 Dec 20

Took my daughter there on a Monday night - waited seven hours. I’d hate to imagine what it’s like on a Saturday night

Melissa Hobbs Melissa Hobbs 9:03 am 18 Dec 20

Second rate health system considering it’s the country’s capital. Regional Australia is doing better.

    Nicole Nagler Nicole Nagler 10:21 am 18 Dec 20

    Melissa Hobbs so true it always surprises me. Cannot understand why the capital cannot lead the way in health care. But it’s not the case.

Jessie Nicho Jessie Nicho 7:25 am 18 Dec 20

What about having to stand in line and wait for over 30 minutes to even speak to a triage nurse to be entered into the system.

It’s a joke.

Not everyone has someone to line up for them!

Literally every single thing in that place needs to be overhauled right from the moment you walk in and have to stand there often in agony or with chest pains or bleeding or like I saw 3 weeks ago when someone is CHOKING and the nurses tell you to get back in line so queue jumping.

    Margaret Gracie Margaret Gracie 9:05 am 18 Dec 20

    Make better use of the walk in centres. If more people realised that the Medicare rebates haven't increased for years making it less affordable to go to a doctor in the first place. Everyone just queues up for a free service at the hospital and then complains when the hospital is overwhelmed. Go to the source - the Federal Government for lack of funding.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 2:42 pm 18 Dec 20

    Jessie Nicho Good point. When my sister fainted and hit her head. I struggle to drag her into emergency. put her down on a seat where she wont fall again. went back to remove car in case it blocks yhe ambulance.

    My sister was heavy. if it was my brother i would have needed help.

    Also my sister would not have been able to wait in line.

Bob Susic Bob Susic 6:02 am 18 Dec 20

Isn't the ED full of people that have stacked it off the purple/orange scooters?🤣

Camille McMahon Camille McMahon 11:32 pm 17 Dec 20

Amazingly, the multiple times I have had to go to the ED I, O my children, have been seen in a very reasonable time. Perhaps it still gets down to not enough options for people who can't afford to go to a GP in the first instance. And perhaps people still don't know about the walk-in clinics?

Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 11:25 pm 17 Dec 20

Unless you’ve actually been on the ground behind the scenes, please do NOT make presumptions about the staff!

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:55 pm 17 Dec 20

Ah, but we have a sexy tram, a rainbow roundabout and a very progressive government.

Jackie White Jackie White 7:21 pm 17 Dec 20

I think the lack of bulk-billing doctors in the ACT is a major reason the ED gets so busy....

    Debbie Hudson Debbie Hudson 8:17 pm 17 Dec 20

    Jackie White - I think there was a huge proportion of of Category 1,2 & 3 patients not being seen in the required time - most of them are appropriate for ED

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 9:32 pm 17 Dec 20

    Jackie White I'm sure you're right. It is so expensive to see a Dr in Canberra and if you end up needing xrays or scans, well, its out of most people's reach.

    I really think they need a free GP clinic right next to the ED. All people entering the ED would be triaged, for minor ailments/illnesses they would be directed to the clinic. If the GP says xrays or scans are needed, a letter from this GP to present in ED then the patient would get them done for nothing.

    Tara Murray Tara Murray 5:36 am 18 Dec 20

    Julia Ross thats why we have medicare 🤦‍♀️🤷‍♀️

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 7:45 am 18 Dec 20

    Tara Murray but in Canberra if you get referred by your GP for xrays etc the out of pocket expense is horrendous.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 2:44 pm 18 Dec 20

    Jackie White Ginnidera medical centre in Belconnen bulk bill. also itnis a walk in centre. We need more of those.

    I feel that place is basically my emergency if i suddenly hurt myself and cant see my regular GP.

Gary Rawlings Gary Rawlings 7:05 pm 17 Dec 20

Agree Canberra has the biggest rate of people think that their headache is an emergency or that they have an ingrown toe nail. Tell them to piss off it’s called emergency for a reason

Tara Murray Tara Murray 6:54 pm 17 Dec 20

Send them home if its not an emergency they can go to their gp

My son broke his arm last week and due to wait times we went to Queanbeyan instead in and out within an hour

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 2:49 pm 18 Dec 20

    Tara Murray How was the wait there?

    I'm curious as my plan is to drive 30 to 40minute to Queanbeyan the next time my sister collapses.

    I previously used a similar approach when my dad was coughing up blood. the Maitland hospital had a long wait (ALL THE TIME) but i know 2 other hospitals that hardly have a line.

    So I'm hoping Queanbeyan hospital's emergency will not be as packed.

Nathan White Nathan White 6:43 pm 17 Dec 20

Extremely left wing LABOR government for 25 years. So what is the excuse

    Gavin Mcmullan Gavin Mcmullan 8:26 pm 17 Dec 20

    Nathan White one of the fastest growing population city in the country probably. But I agree , not a good enough excuse

    Warwick Jay Warwick Jay 9:18 pm 17 Dec 20

    You do realise as population grows so does the revenue base, not just costs. There’s no reason why the health system shouldn’t be able to keep up with population growth

    Nathan White Nathan White 10:46 pm 17 Dec 20

    Warwick Jay what are trying to tell me ?

    That then light rail network was justified or that it should have gone to hospitals or light rail in the south of Canberra?

    Daniel McPhun Daniel McPhun 5:55 am 18 Dec 20

    extremely is a bit much. Just left of the coalition. More like centrist down the middle mediocrity left... hospital system in canberra is pathetic tho and has been since the coalition were last in charge and blew up that hospital and killed that poor girl...

    Daniel McPhun Daniel McPhun 5:57 am 18 Dec 20

    Canberra is a wealthy place. Could do transport infrastructure AND health care

    Warwick Jay Warwick Jay 7:09 am 18 Dec 20

    Nathan - I was responding to Gavin above me. I don’t think the consistently lousy performance can be excused by popn growth. Like you, I think the govt of the last 25 yrs has had ample opportunity to improve it

    Sean Pobjie Sean Pobjie 2:39 pm 19 Dec 20

    Nathan White yyyyeeeaahhhhhh mate

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