Emergency department, elective surgery performance edges up but worse to come

Ian Bushnell 9 July 2021 1
Canberra Hospital

ED waiting times improved slightly in the March quarter, but a worse report card looms in the next period. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT’s public hospitals are chipping away at emergency department waiting times and the elective surgery list, but the government admits it still has a lot more work to do.

The latest Quarterly Performance Report for January to March shows slight improvements in ED waits, helped by fewer people turning up to the hospital than the previous period, and more elective surgeries performed and fewer patients on the waiting list than in Quarter 2.

Overall there were 37,682 presentations to EDs in Quarter 3, 2020-21, down from 39,799 or 5.3 per cent, and 57 per cent spent four hours or less there.

Nearly half (48%) were treated within the clinically recommended time for their triage category, up from 46.5 per cent in Quarter 2, while for triage category 1 and 2, it was 100 per cent and 76.5 per cent respectively.

The median waiting time in triage category 1 and 2 was zero and six minutes respectively, unchanged from the previous quarter, but the figures for category 3 (urgent) and 4 (semi-urgent) improved slightly by 1.7 per cent and 4.2 per cent.


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Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said patients starting treatment within clinically recommend timeframes remained an area of improvement for both ACT public hospitals.

She said both Calvary and Canberra hospitals were working to improve patient flow through direct admissions into wards, rapid assessment by senior clinicians, and increased sharing of information between jurisdictions.

But Ms Stephen-Smith warned that the next quarter’s report card would be affected by periods of significant demand.

“This increase in demand is being experienced across the country, with most jurisdictions reporting pressure on emergency department and elective surgery performance,” she said.

“On a national level, work is underway to better understand what is causing these spikes in demand.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said the government’s $30 million boost to elective surgeries, outpatient appointments and medical procedures impacted by COVID-19 in 2020 was bearing fruit, as well as partnerships with private hospitals.

There were 3,729 elective surgeries performed between January and March this year, an increase of 3.6 per cent from the previous quarter.


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Ms Stephen-Smith said overdue patients were a priority, and the 978 patients waiting for elective surgery represented a 10 per cent fall compared to the previous quarter.

“From the start of 2020-21, the total number of overdue patients has decreased by approximately 25 per cent,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT was on track to deliver a record number of elective surgeries in 2020-21, and it was expected that about 15,300 will be performed in the year compared to the previous record of 14,015.

But the number of patients removed from the elective surgery waiting list for reasons other than surgery was up nearly 40 per cent, from 566 to 788, and fewer surgeries were performed within clinically recommended timeframes, down 0.7 per cent, 8.1 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively across Urgent, Semi-urgent and Non-urgent categories.

Median wait times in days were down for Urgent (17 to 16) and Non-urgent (232 to 222), but Semi-urgent increased from 63 days to 74 or 17.5 per cent.

Ms Stephen Smith said the Walk-in Centres continued to be very popular with Canberrans.

Non-COVID presentations increased by 2.5 per cent with more than 19,400 presentations in the quarter. Only 6 per cent were referred to an Emergency Department.

“This combined with a median wait time of 14 minutes shows that Canberrans continue to be provided with efficient, accessible and timely care through our Walk-in Centres,” she said.


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One Response to Emergency department, elective surgery performance edges up but worse to come
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Finagen_erection Finagen_erection 1:51 pm 10 Jul 21

Thank goodness Minister Stephen-Smith is on the job. We have the government we deserve.

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