Emergency department waiting times fallen: report

18 October, 2013

In 2012-13, almost three-quarters of emergency department patients were 'seen on time' for their urgency (triage) category, according to a report recently released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report "Australian hospital statistics 2012-13: emergency department care" shows the number of emergency department visits that were 'seen on time' — meaning treatment was received from a medical officer or nurse within an appropriate time for the urgency category-rose from 70 per cent to 73 per cent between 2008-09 and 2012-13.

"The proportion 'seen on time' in 2012-13 varied across the states and territories, from 51 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory, to 78 per cent in New South Wales," Nigel Harding, AIHW's spokesperson, said.

Between 2008-09 and 2012-13, most states and territories reported improvements in waiting time statistics.

South Australia recorded the largest improvement in the proportion seen on time, which rose from 64 per cent to 75 per cent. Queensland and Tasmania also achieved notable improvements in the proportion seen on time over this period.

Nationally, almost 100 per cent of resuscitation patients (those requiring treatment immediately) and 82 per cent of emergency patients (requiring treatment within 10 minutes) were seen on time.

Overall, in 2012-13, 50 per cent of patients received treatment within 19 minutes of presenting to the emergency department and 90 per cent received treatment within 1 hour and 41 minutes of presentation.

"More than 6.7 million emergency department presentations were reported by public hospital emergency departments in 2012-13, equating to just over 18,000 presentations each day," Harding said.

Emergency department presentations rose by 2.5 per cent nationally between 2011-12 and 2012-13, with the largest rises in Tasmania (3.8 per cent) and Queensland (3.7 per cent).

The aim of the National Emergency Access Target is that, by 31 December 2015, 90 per cent of emergency department visits will be completed in 4 hours or less-from arrival, to when they went home or were admitted to the hospital.

In 2012-13, 67 per cent of emergency department visits were completed in 4 hours or less, and this was an increase from 64 per cent in 2011-12.

"Western Australia had the highest proportion of emergency department visits completed within 4 hours and the Australian Capital Territory had the lowest-77 per cent and 57 per cent respectively," Harding said.

About 27 per cent of emergency department patients were admitted to hospital after their emergency department care. For these patients, a much smaller proportion (36 per cent) were completed (admitted to hospital) within 4 hours and 90 per cent were admitted within 13 hours and 41 minutes. Western Australia had the highest proportion (46 per cent) of emergency department patients admitted in 4 hours or less and the Northern Territory had the lowest (24 per cent).

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.