State of Emergency 2022 (SOE22) gathers and carefully analyses concrete data from each of Australia’s states and territories across 2020 and 2021, providing inarguable proof that the country’s emergency departments (EDs) have never been in a worse state.

This is no secret for many, especially those in rural, regional and remote areas, with reports of emergency department overcrowding, ambulance ramping, extended wait-times, burnt out healthcare workers and avoidable adverse outcomes for patients, including deaths, all too frequent.

It isn’t normal, it isn’t safe, and it must be fixed. But before a problem is fixed, it must be understood, and the numbers in SOE22 validate the experiences of emergency physicians and trainees, who increasingly report difficulty providing timely and dignified care to patients presenting to EDs:

  • In 2020-21, Australia had 8.8 million presentations to the emergency department, the highest number of annual presentations ever recorded.
  • Over the past five years, demand for emergency care has risen 14%, despite the Australian population only growing by 5%.
  • From 2016-17 to 2020-21 the number of emergency department presentations per 1,000 population requiring hospital admission increased by 3%, yet over the same period the number of available hospital beds per 1,000 population decreased by 4%.
  • Finally, in 2020-21, most Australians who came to an emergency department, and were sick or injured enough to require admission, were stuck waiting in the ED for an average of almost 13 hours for an inpatient bed.

SOE22 shows that widespread health reform is a massive but necessary undertaking, and will require a strategic, long-term and collaborative approach to bring all parts of the healthcare system together to reimagine a better, more equitable way of doing things.

Acknowledging the need for strategic and long term thinking, in October the College released Access block: A review of potential solutions, which analysed more than a decade of global research to ascertain clear, practical, and achievable solutions for the biggest problem in the Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand health systems.
ACEM President, Dr Clare Skinner said, “While these problems are deeply complex and interconnected, at the same time the situation is frustratingly simple: There are too many sick and injured people, and not enough resources and trained staff, for people to get the affordable and accessible acute care they need, when and where they need it.
“We can’t fix this alone. The emergency department is just one part of a complex and increasingly fragmented health system that must be reimagined and reformed."

State of Emergency 2022 will inform us, and guide us, as we work collaboratively with government, other Colleges and health services, as well as patients and carers and all other stakeholders across the health system, on the creation of an equitable health future, for everyone.”

State of Emergency 2022 is available to read here.