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Emergency waiting times in Canberra the worst in Australia

Michael Weaver 11 December 2019 87
The Canberra Hospital

Only 46 per cent of patients were seen within the designated timeframes in ACT emergency departments. Photo: Region Media.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has reassured Canberrans they will be given the care they need despite figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing wait times for Canberrans presenting to emergency departments are the worst in Australia.

Data released today (11 December) shows there were 149,273 presentations to emergency departments in Canberra in the 2018-19 financial year. This figure has increased by one per cent from 2017-18 when there were 147,778 people who were treated at an emergency department.

On arrival at an emergency department, patients are assigned a triage category of resuscitation (should be seen immediately), emergency (within 10 minutes), urgent (within 30 minutes), semi-urgent (within 60 minutes) or non-urgent (within two hours).

The ACT recorded the lowest rate of emergency department patients being seen on time in Australia.

Nationally, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time. In the ACT, only 46 per cent of patients were seen within the designated timeframes.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said waiting times continue to be a challenge for the ACT’s hospitals.

“We have seen significant population growth over recent years, resulting in an increased demand for health services,” Ms Stephen-Smith told Region Media.

“We know there is more work to be done to ensure Canberrans have access to timely and professional healthcare when it is needed most.

“We need to continue investing in our healthcare staff, infrastructure and community-based programs to ensure we can meet the changing demands of our growing city and ageing population.”

The minister reassured Canberrans that if they present to an emergency department needing urgent care, they will be given the care they need.

Ms Stephen-Smith pointed to a number of initiatives such as the $6.7 million expansion of the emergency department and the number of theatres at Calvary Public Hospital. The expansion will deliver 22 additional treatment spaces and will see more than 40 health staff joining the ED team in the next two years.

“The expansion is on track to be completed by March 2020 and will provide a 50 per cent increase to Calvary’s ED treatment capacity and an additional 20 per cent across the territory,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Additional investments will be made to the walk-in centres at Dickson and Weston Creek. The Weston Creek walk-in centre will open this month while the Dickson walk-in centre will open sometime next year.

“Over the next five years, we will invest almost $1 billion in new and improved healthcare infrastructure right across Canberra,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“This includes the new state-of-the-art emergency, critical and surgical healthcare facility at the Canberra Hospital, delivering a bigger hospital with more operating rooms, emergency treatment spaces and intensive care beds.

“Whilst we are in the planning stages of the SPIRE Project, we will continue to fund our health services appropriately, investing in additional healthcare staff, community-based programs and preventive health initiatives.”

TCH waiting room

The Canberra Hospital’s Emergency Department. There were 149,273 presentations to emergency departments in Canberra in the 2018-19 financial year. Photo: ACT Health.

The latest emergency department data shows that there were 8.4 million presentations to Australian public hospital emergency departments in 2018–19, an average of about 23,000 presentations per day, up 4.2 per cent on 2017–18.

“In 2018-19, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time for their urgency category, down from 74 per cent in 2014-15. All patients in the most urgent category, ‘resuscitation’, were seen immediately,” AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster said.

“Three-quarters of patients in the second-most urgent category – ‘emergency’ – were seen within the required 10 minutes.”

In Canberra during 2018-19, 77,316 females presented to emergency departments, compared with 71,903 males.

The age bracket with the highest number of people needing treatment at an emergency department were those aged 15-24 and 25-34 years.

The majority of treatments were for fractures, burns, toxic effects of medicinal and non-medicinal substances, and other complications.

Sixty per cent of emergency department patients went home after being treated, while almost one-third of patients (31 per cent) were admitted to hospital for further care.


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87 Responses to Emergency waiting times in Canberra the worst in Australia
Acton Acton 7:09 am 16 Dec 19

ACT voters hope that neither they or their families will ever require hospital treatment in Canberra. If you have ever visited a hospital in Asia you will know about efficiency, professional treatment and genuine caring staff.

    JC JC 6:48 pm 16 Dec 19

    Depends what hospitals in Asia you are talking about. Sure the private Western Oriented hotels in Bangkok are great and very well priced, though the price is good and service is great because their staff are paid pay a pittance compared to what someone would get paid here.

    But if you had to go to a public hospital in Bangkok or heaven forbid in the sticks you would be happy to be treated at Woden or Calvary.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 9:26 am 17 Dec 19

    Yay Canberra Hospital better than remote Thai hospital.

Perlita Poh Perlita Poh 8:47 am 15 Dec 19

The whole system fails. Let the private patients who can afford and want to go to private hospital go to private hospital. That can leave more spots for people who need treatment in public hospital. Why on earth do all of us have to wait in public hospital? We waited 31 hours (yes! 31! Not 13!) just to have an appendix out. It went from inflamed to eventually ruptured. And had to deal with all the complications after. We were not able to go to private hospital as we needed referral letter to see a private doctor (?!). And that takes months for appointments. This is even worse system than in developing country. I paid for private insurance and I can’t even use it.

    Cjmd Francis Cjmd Francis 6:42 am 16 Dec 19

    Perlita Poh looks like Malaysia health care during when I was still working was way better...31hrs of wait for emergency op is absolutely ridiculous...

Ann Parkinson Ann Parkinson 9:40 pm 14 Dec 19

Hmm... At a WVCC meeting in November the paramedic spokesperson said, when asked about the increased time for the ambulance to get to the proposed SPIRE Centre, that time taken to get to the hospital will not made a difference to patient outcomes. The biggest driver to patient outcomes is what happens inside the facility itself.

Ree Lewer Ree Lewer 12:26 am 13 Dec 19

I must of caught Canberra Hospital ED on a good night one Saturday when I went there after we thought i’d broken my arm at Baseball. 2 hrs from the time we walked in to the time we walked out including xrays and treatment. Fortunately it wasn’t broken.

Benjamin Rose Benjamin Rose 9:11 pm 12 Dec 19

Emergency department staff do an amazing job considering the resources they are given.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr (Treasurer) and MLA Rachel Stephen-Smith (Health Minister) need to double-down on hospital resources and find a quick way to screen the time-wasters out to a 24-hour walk-in centre located preferably next door.

    Ann Parkinson Ann Parkinson 9:37 pm 14 Dec 19

    There used to be one in the hospital grounds. It was very good. Then it was closed... Apparently it was because the nurses there sent cases to emergency, and the ED people weren't happy about the walk-in centre because they felt it increased their workload. So I was told, but I don't know what the facts really are.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:58 pm 12 Dec 19

“I suggest some people could try the walk in clinics,”

The problem with these is they close too early in the evening and they have very limited powers of referral.

dustytrail dustytrail 5:48 pm 12 Dec 19

I thought I read somewhere that they were building a new Hospital in Belconnen.

Just Googled to check and it will be a “rehabilitation” hospital – a ‘calming’ place for mental health, rehabilitation patients.

They don’t advertise the After Hours GP Service nor do they advertise the Walk In clinics. Both are covered by Medicare.

What about the various Health Clinics set up where you pay a small fee annually and then get bulk billed?

Also some Chemists will fill and deliver prescriptions.

Most of this is unknown to many people. ACT Health should do their job and advertise this stuff.

Emergency Department is for people with an emergency, not for parents in a panic with a child with a fever!

megsy megsy 3:57 pm 12 Dec 19

I had two visits to emergency during that period and I have nothing but praise for the staff. The first time I was in the highest category (literally needed to be rescusitated) and they saved my life and had applied CPR within seconds of my heart stopping _ when I came round, there were 25 people in the room, many of whom stayed with me until I was transferred to ICU. The second time, a week later, when I had a suspected blood clot complication from the first problem, I was in the semi-urgent category & I was seen within about 20 minutes and treated well at all times.

Pamela Smith Pamela Smith 2:12 pm 12 Dec 19

What about the patient who passed away in the waiting room.

Pamela Smith Pamela Smith 2:11 pm 12 Dec 19

People have waited longer than 4 hours .

Josef Brzozowski Josef Brzozowski 11:40 am 12 Dec 19

Tony Morrison. Look under your bed.

Peter Paz Peter Paz 9:39 am 12 Dec 19

But the choo choo runs sort of on time! And we have uhh, umm, did we mention the choo choo?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:17 am 12 Dec 19

It’s very clear that the system is clogged up by too many “non-emergency” visitors but, hey it’s “free”. Everyone knows this is the problem but what happened when a previous government tried to introduce a $5 co-payment to separate the wheat from the chaff to get free medical services?

We reap what we harvest.

Cathy Stephenson Cathy Stephenson 6:26 am 12 Dec 19

In 1990, we had 3 ED Departments in the ACT, one destroyed to make way for the National Museum.
Now we have 2, one, (Canberra Hospital), deals with major fractures,(& NOFs), sick paediatrics, burns, Mental Health pts, pts from NSW, etc etc.
Patients with minor ailments feel it’s OK to go to ED instead of using appropriate resources within the Community.
There are no educational/informative ads for when calling an ambulance or going to ED,(these have been stopped in the past, we’d hate to offend anyone). ITS A JOKE.

Helena Reeves Helena Reeves 6:03 am 12 Dec 19

My daughter was recently in Canberra Hospital Emergency and her treatment was second to none, the staff were absolutely wonderful, couldn't fault TCH

    Loretta Percival Loretta Percival 8:59 am 12 Dec 19

    Geoff goes to the Eye Hospital here. Excellent. Can't fault them Helena Reeves🙂

Glynis Stokes Glynis Stokes 12:50 am 12 Dec 19

Brendan Wright Hugo Kneebone “17 minutes”

Monique Cox Monique Cox 11:57 pm 11 Dec 19

I've had much better experiences in Canberra than I have in Sydney.

Deborah Jane Deborah Jane 11:52 pm 11 Dec 19

My elderly mother is a frequent flyer at Canberra Hospital ED (at least ten admissions the past 12 months). I can’t fault the care she’s been given. We know the times we’ve had to wait extended periods means there’s someone in a much worse state - and we are ok with that.

Ian McTaggart Ian McTaggart 11:48 pm 11 Dec 19

But wait, there is more. Even if you get into ICU the problem is worse. A colleague had to call me on his mobile so that I could ring the nurses desk in ICU and request a nurse attend his bed after vascular surgery.

Roberto Crispino Roberto Crispino 11:20 pm 11 Dec 19

Well unfortunately when everyone in a 150km north and 250km south radius come to canberra hospital wat can we expect. It gose by matter of emergency. Helicopter dropping unfortunate patients off all day and during the night. Alot of pressure on the system and doctors.... sad, unfortunate but true

    Sharon Hunter Sharon Hunter 12:00 am 12 Dec 19

    Roberto Crispino

    Is Queanbeyan hospital used for NSW people?

    Elisemaree Albert Elisemaree Albert 5:40 pm 12 Dec 19

    Sharon Hunter yes. But it has limited services i.e. no orthopaedics, plastics, paediatrics, cardiac, etc...., so depending on the level of injury/illness, a lot of people go straight to Canberra as they know they will be transferred there any way. Also a lot of nsw rural and out lying hospitals in the area have to refer and transfer to Canberra.

    Monica Smith Monica Smith 5:45 pm 12 Dec 19

    Actually Canberra hospital looks after Wollongong to VIC boarder and from the east coast to out west past orange, Wagga etc. it’s got a huge area.

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