Patient numbers rise to pre-pandemic levels in emergency departments

State and territory health ministers say urgent funding is needed.

State and territory health ministers say urgent funding is needed. Photo: AAP

Public hospitals are seeing pre-pandemic levels of emergency department presentations, but how long patients have to wait depends on where they live.

A report on emergency department care found there were 8.8 million presentations to public hospital EDs in 2021, an increase of 6.9 per cent from the previous year.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says this is back on trend with pre-pandemic presentation numbers.

Across Australia, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time and there was a median wait of 18 minutes.

But patients at public hospitals in the ACT had a median wait of 48 minutes, the longest in Australia.

Tasmanian public hospitals had the second longest wait time of half an hour.

By comparison, ED patients at NSW public hospitals had a median wait of 14 minutes.

All patients in the most urgent category, “resuscitation”, were seen immediately.

Of patients in the second-most urgent category, “emergency”, 71 per cent were seen within 10 minutes, down from 75 per cent in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Young children aged four and under and adults older than 65 had the highest rates of ED visits in the past year.

While ED presentations were generally evenly split between males and females, boys made up 55 per cent of patients aged 14 and under.

During the first outbreak of COVID-19 in February 2020, ED presentations fell by 1.4 per cent from previous years due to restrictions.

The report found while ED presentations rebounded in 2021 it was partly because hospitals opened fever clinics to assess potential COVID-19 cases.


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