ED waiting times not ideal as patients put at risk

The peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand notes a deterioration in waiting times for patients in emergency departments in some states and territories which is undermining the quality of care they receive and putting patients at increased risk of poor outcomes.

This situation (access block and overcrowding) is associated with an increase in patient deaths.

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine’s (ACEM) reiteration of its concerns follows the release today of a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) which shows the proportion of people seen ‘on time’ for their urgency category is relatively stable.

ACEM President Dr Simon Judkins said: “While we respect the Institute’s data, our own research and experience on the frontline of patient care reveals a more nuanced picture, with some states and some patient groups experiencing much longer wait than average.

“Overcrowding, and long waits for inpatient beds, is the greatest challenge faced by Australian emergency departments. While it is occurring across the country, the situation has particular deteriorated in South Australia and Western Australia. A worse than usual flu season has also contributed to our current problems.

“Our members are telling us that one of the most vulnerable groups to be caught up in this predicament are patients presenting with mental health issues. Sadly, patients presenting to emergency departments with mental health concerns often have unacceptable lengths of stay following triage and assessment.”

A snapshot of emergency departments earlier this year found 106 patients from 31 hospitals were classified as having a dangerously long emergency department waiting time of more than 24 hours, with the worst performing hospital having nine such cases. Eight hospitals reported patients who had been in the emergency department for more than 48 hours and five reported patients staying more than 60 hours.

The College’s Annual Scientific Meeting, held in Sydney last week, heard from experts and prominent emergency doctors about solutions to help to improve patient care and reduce the current pressure on emergency departments.

“Access block has historically been seen as ‘an emergency department only problem’; however, it is symptomatic of a health system in crisis where inpatient capacity cannot meet demand. Hence, access block requires a ‘whole of system’ response,” Dr Judkins said.

ACEM has called for the implementation of a number of strategies to improve the flow of patients into and through hospitals. These include hospitals identifying system-wide process solutions that are tailored to their local needs and the realistic setting of targets for whole of hospital performance.

“If these strategies are not adopted, the increased risk of complications, errors, death and increased costs to the health care system only grows,” Dr Judkins said.


Andre Khoury
ACEM Public Affairs Manager
03 8679 8813
0498 068 023
[email protected]