This situation is putting patient lives at risk, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) says, and has called for immediate action to improve the flow of patients into and through hospitals. 

The call follows the release today of figures by the Bureau of Health Information which showed more than 720,000 patients presented to a NSW public hospital emergency department – 9.4% higher than the same quarter last year. 

ACEM NSW Faculty Chair Dr Chris Trethewy said: “We agree with the data which showed that our members experienced a busy winter season, treating patients presenting with the flu, however this was the case last year and we would safely predict it would be the case next year, too. 

“Importantly, the increase in emergency department activity has not been matched with an increase in staff or resources which meets this growing demand for care. 

“Without adequately addressing the underlying problems of access block, overcrowding and acute care bed shortages across NSW, we will not fix the current situation, and patients will remain at risk.” 

A snapshot of emergency departments [link to PDF "2017–2 Access Block Point Prevalence Survey Summary"] across the country 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. 

According to the survey, at any one time in a typical emergency department in NSW, more than six people are waiting more than eight hours for a hospital bed. 

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

ACEM President Dr Simon Judkins said access block and overcrowding in hospital emergency departments can be reduced through a combination of increased resources, realistic targets and improved hospital management. 

“Emergency doctors care deeply for the health and wellbeing of communities across NSW. Patients that come through the doors of emergency departments deserve the opportunity to experience quality care, in a timely manner and with the greatest chance of positive outcomes,” Dr Judkins said. 

Despite the unprecedented levels of demand, Dr Judkins paid tribute to the resilience and commitment of emergency doctors to do their job. 

“It is a testimony to our members’ ability to work harder, faster and smarter to keep pace, but everyone has their limits. When those limits are breached, which happens every day, it’s the patients who bear the consequences,” 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. 


Andre Khoury
ACEM Public Affairs Manager
03 8679 8813
0498 068 023

[email protected] 

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