23 April 2022

Just over half of emergency presentations seen on time (but that's an improvement)

| 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 Media.

Canberra’s notorious wait times at its emergency departments (EDs) improved slightly in the last few months of 2021, but still, just over half of presenting patients were seen on time.

ACT Health’s most recent quarterly report shows 35,252 presentations to Canberra’s EDs between October and December last year, 0.7 per cent down on the previous quarter.

Of these, 52.9 per cent received treatment within the recommended timeframe – up from 49 per cent – and 56.8 per cent of patients spent four hours or less in the ED.

100 per cent* of category one patients – those requiring resuscitation – were seen on time.

Of emergency (category two) patients, 73.1 per cent were seen on time.

But only 39.9 per cent of urgent patients were seen on time. They faced a median wait time of 45 minutes.

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Overall, hospitalisations increased by 0.5 per cent in the quarter with 102,866 bed days of patient care provided.

During the three-month period, 3556 elective surgeries were completed, down 2.6 per cent from the previous quarter.

There were 4203 additions to the elective surgery waitlist and 1110 outpatients were waiting for overdue elective surgeries – 79 more than in the first quarter.

The government has committed to delivering 60,000 elective surgeries over the next four years from 2021-22.

Between October and December, ACT Health conducted almost 160,000 PCR tests – 14.4 per cent more than in the previous quarter. This is likely due to the surge in testing demand experienced in the lead-up to Christmas as the Omicron wave surged across the Territory. A total of 17,684 tests were conducted at the Mitchell Testing Centre alone, even though it only opened midway through December 2021.

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During the same period, presentations to the Territory’s five Walk-in Centres increased by 18.7 per cent to 16,468. The Belconnen, Gungahlin and Tuggeranong centres were the most popular.

Of these presentations, 83.1 per cent were treated in full at the Walk-in Centre and 7.9 per cent were redirected to an Emergency Department.

The median wait time for treatment at a Walk-in Centre was eight minutes, although this increased to 14 minutes at Tuggeranong and averaged four minutes at Weston Creek.

ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said an 18.7 per cent increase in the number of presentations to Walk-in Centres was recorded as Canberra emerged from lockdown.

“[This was] a great result for our ‘care in the community’ approach,” she said.

Rachel Stephen-smith

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said it was likely the next quarter’s data would reflect the pressure the health system has been under since the start of 2022. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Ms Stephen-Smith said that while she welcomed the improvements in emergency department wait times, the data from this period reflected the pressure the health system had been under as the ACT managed the tail end of the Delta strain and the emerging Omicron outbreak.

However, she said she was anticipating the performance statistics for the next quarter (January to March 2022) to capture the scale of the impact caused by the Omicron outbreak”.

“The ACT Government is focused on collaborating to deliver innovative solutions that improve patient experience and support our workforce,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

* An earlier version of this article said 99.5 per cent of category one patients had been seen on time. ACT Health has since updated its report to show 100 per cent were seen on time.

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If you compare against rock-bottom, anything is an improvement.

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