9 December 2022

Canberrans waiting more than double the national average for emergency care

| Lottie Twyford
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emergency department

There were more than 35,000 presentations to Canberra’s emergency departments in the last three months of 2021. Photo: Region.

Canberra’s emergency departments (EDs) continue to languish behind those across the country, with ACT patients now waiting more than double the national average.

A person presenting for emergency care at a Territory ED waits 47 minutes.

That’s compared to the national median of 20 minutes during the 2021-22 financial year, according to the Australian Institute of Health Welfare (AIHW).

Over the border in NSW, the wait time for emergency care is 14 minutes.

ACT ED wait times continue to remain long with data showing little to no improvement over the last five years.

That’s despite a decline in the overall number of patients who attended emergency departments for treatment.

In the ACT, 48 per cent of ED patients were seen on time, compared with a national average of 67 per cent.

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Around the country, Western Australia had the second longest wait time of 40 minutes, followed by Tasmania (31 minutes) and the Northern Territory (29 minutes).

In other states, patients in Queensland waited an average of 18 minutes, Victoria (22 minutes) and South Australia (26 minutes).

These figures are based on the time within which 50 per cent of patients are seen. When this is extended to 90 per cent of patients, the Territory’s performance declines even further.

Compared with a national average of 117 minutes, the wait time in the ACT for 90 per cent of patients was 203 minutes. That’s up from 181 minutes the previous year.

Rachel Stephen-Smith in the legislative assembly

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith was questioned by the Opposition about hospital wait times in the ACT Legislative Assembly last week. Photo: Region Media.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith was asked in the ACT Legislative Assembly last week about the long ED wait times.

She said it was not accurate to make comparisons across jurisdictions.

“Obviously, it is always upsetting for people when they have to wait in the emergency department for longer than is ideal,” she told the Assembly.

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“But I also know that most Canberrans recognise that our hospital has one of the busiest emergency departments in the country. In comparison with its peer hospitals, these waits are on a par with some of those peer hospitals that are also very busy hospitals.”

She said the government was continuing to invest and make model-of-care changes (including having nurse practitioners in EDs).

Leanne Castley

Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley says the situation at the hospital is “simply unacceptable”. Photo: Region.

But Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley said these figures were “simply unacceptable” particularly given this was the fifth year in a row the Territory had been the worst performer.

“Each year the Labor-Greens government tells Canberrans they are implementing new models and reviewing their practices, yet they continue to languish at the bottom of the list for ED performance in the country,” Ms Castley said.

She accused the government of systemic underfunding and underinvestment in health.

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A claimed 47 minute wait at emergency is laughable, if not a deliberate and dishonest manipulation of data. The reported experience of many Canberrans, over many years, including my own, of 4-8 hours waiting for attention at emergency is the norm.

You do understand how averages work, don’t you? I’m sorry you have had such long waits, but they calculate the average by including people who get triaged in sooner. I’ve had four visits to the ED over the last three years and the longest I’ve waited was less than 20 minutes (one I was ushered in straight away, but I was deemed a resuscitation risk) and my experiences will help lower the average wait times.

I understand the difference between mode, median and mean. 47 minutes may the mean (average) waiting time, but somewhere between 4-8 hours is likely to be the mode (most frequent). Yes, you are right, emergency admissions will reduce the average waiting time, but a claimed wait time of 47 minutes deceptively disguises the ongoing problem of excessively long waits for the majority. Note the national ‘median’ of 20 minutes. There is a problem in Canberra and we should not be allowing local politicians and health officials to pretend there is not by selective use of stats.

Life under Greens/Labor is not the Utopia it was supposed to be

47 mins!!!! I was 10 hrs waiting a few weeks ago on a Wed. Went in at 9pm saw a dr at 7am next day.

Does the waiting time start from when you get to the front of the queue?
I’m sure the queue itself takes 30 minutes some days, not sure how that time gets counted.
Seems like the queue waiting time is there so waiting times are not counted but has the effect that triage isn’t done properly, being that everyone has to wait for a while despite the condition.

I’d say the times are far worse than described above

10 hrs I was waiting a few weeks ago on a Wed night

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