1 December 2017

Long wait continues at Canberra's emergency departments

| Ian Bushnell
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The waiting room at Canberra Hospital's Emergency Department. Photo: ACT Health.

The waiting room at Canberra Hospital’s Emergency Department. Photo: ACT Health.

Canberrans still experience the longest hospital emergency department waiting times in the country, according to new data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The median waiting time for 2016-17 was 30 minutes, equal worst with the Northern Territory but more than double the 14-minute wait in New South Wales and well above the national median waiting time of 19 minutes.

Only half of all urgent presentations were seen on time, the equal lowest proportion with Western Australia, while NSW had the highest at 76 percent. Ninety-one percent of non-urgent patients were seen on time.

Ninety percent of patients were seen in 116 minutes, compared with only 76 minutes in NSW. Nationally, 90 percent of patients were seen in 95 minutes.

The ACT (99 percent) was the only jurisdiction not to see 100 percent of resuscitation patients on time.

The data shows that overall only 62 percent of patients were seen on time, better than only the Northern Territory with 61 percent. NSW topped the ladder with 81 percent, while nationally 73 percent of emergency department patients were seen on time.

The proportion of people spending four hours or less in an ACT emergency department has increased from 57.3 percent in 2012-13 to 73 percent in 2016-17. Only WA (73.8 percent) and NSW (74.8 percent) was higher. Nationally the figure was 72.4 percent.

The number of emergency department presentations in the ACT has grown steadily since 2012-13, with 143,860 in 2016-17, up 4.9 percent with only NSW higher over that period at 5.1 percent.

No ACT data was submitted for 2015-16, due to concerns about its accuracy, but the latest median waiting time is an improvement on the 2014-15 figure of 37 minutes, which was the worst result in the country for that period.

The report, Emergency department care 2016-17: Australian hospital statistics, shows that in 2016-17, there were 7.8 million presentations to public hospital emergency departments across Australia, or more than 21,000 each day.

“Between 2012-13 and 2016-17, after adjusting for the number of hospitals included, presentations to emergency departments increased by 2.6 percent each year on average,” said AIHW spokesperson Jenny Hargreaves.

The proportion of people presenting to emergency departments who were seen ‘on time’ for their urgency (triage) category was fairly stable across the period, ranging from 73 percent (in 2012-13 and 2016-17) to 75 percent (in 2013-14).

The report also shows that patients are spending slightly more time in the emergency department, with 72 percent of visits completed in four hours or less. This is slightly less than the 73 percent of visits in 2015-16, but up on 67 percent in 2012-13.

“After their visit to an emergency department, about 31 percent of emergency department patients were admitted to hospital for further care,” Ms Hargreaves said.

“For these patients, 49 percent were admitted in four hours or less and 90 percent were admitted within 10 hours and 44 minutes.”

What are your thoughts and experiences on waiting periods in the emergency departments at ACT hospitals? Share them with us in the comments section below.

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