Doctors from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) say that long waits are dangerous and are caused by a congruence of factors across the health system. These factors include a lack of staffed in-patient beds – particularly in mental health – places in residential aged care and the NDIS; and a decline in access to affordable, accessible primary care over time.

ACEM Victorian Chair Dr Belinda Hibble said, “The Victorian target for the number of patients who have stayed in an emergency department for more than 24 hours is zero. But over 3,500 people were stuck in the ED for over 24 hours in the last quarter.”

“The aim is zero because long waits are dangerous, particularly for people experiencing mental health issues, frail aged people, and those with complex care needs. Long waits for care also increase delays and risk for all patients, and add pressure to staff, who are already working beyond their capacity to manage the large number of people requiring complex care.”

Emergency department (ED) staff are reporting high levels of aggression and frustration in emergency departments, and ACEM – which recently called for a security guard to be posted in every ED – warns that violence and aggression will not be tolerated.

Dr Hibble said, “Please be patient and respectful. We understand people feel worried and frustrated with long waiting times, but it’s not okay to cause harm to anyone, particularly people who are trying to help you or your loved one, or are also seeking or supporting care.”

“We are doing our very best to treat people with serious injury or illness as quickly and safely as possible. We need your patience, as we are doing what we can to provide the best care possible with very limited resources.”

ACEM warns that the situation in EDs will continue to decline without immediate and collaborative work to reimagine and resource the entire health system.

Solutions to dangerously long waits require input from all levels of government and must include further investment in aged care, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and mental health. Other fixes include more fully staffed ED-accessible hospital beds, an increase in non-clinical staff such as cleaners, patient support assistants and clerical workers, and a 20% increase in full-time inpatient specialist and allied health support workers in the public hospital system.
ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards.

Media Contact:
Melissa Howard [email protected] + 61 427 621 857